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Album Review: Nick Phoenix “Wide World”

Nick Phoenix came to Los Angeles more than two decades ago after finishing college in Connecticut. He hoped, like scores of other young people, to form a band and find musical glory in the City of Angels.

It didn’t turn out that way. Phoenix discovered his peers were focused on playing various kinds of heavy metal and it didn’t interest him. He scrambled, finding work where he could, and essentially stumbled into the next chapter of his life. Phoenix co-founded the film music project Two Steps from Hell and discovered a new outlet for his creativity.

It proved lucrative. Two Steps from Hell today is the number one film music artist(s) and their work has garnered enough of a following that they will tour Europe this year. Phoenix, however, never allowed his other dream to die. The musician and songwriter reconnected with his passion for playing in a band setting with the 2021 release King of One. He has let himself lay fallow, however, and we’re hearing its follow-up a year later.

 

 

Wide World’s eleven songs prove he’s no flash in the pan in this arena. It’s an enjoyable mix of styles without ever going too far. He relies, for the most part, on the style we hear with the album’s title song. “Wide World” opens the release with a track understanding of the value of restrained dynamics. There’s a rising and falling trajectory to the song’s development, but Phoenix wisely never pushes it too hard.

“Rise Up”, “Andromeda”, and “That Won’t Stand” are among the tracks listeners will hear as the album’s most ambitious numbers. The first of that trio leans much more on an exhortative vocal performance than musical muscle to leave its mark on listeners. “Andromeda”, however, pushes further out into pure orchestral textures that avoid even a hint of pretension. There’s a strong Pink Floyd influence, the David Gilmour lead era rather than earlier incarnations, but Phoenix’s experiences burn brighter than any echoes of the past.

“Last Round”, however, places Phoenix in a thoroughly contemporary rock environment. It crackles with time-tested pyrotechnics, no doubt, but he lays them out in an arena rock mode that connects with hard-hitting power. It is fleet-footed, however, never ponderous. “Tumblin’ Down” veers into full-on rock though. The vocal melody is an excellent choice for a track such as this and the fiery lead guitar near the song’s conclusion puts an exclamation point on the song that you won’t soon forget.

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Phoenix’s vocal for “If I Let You Go”, especially during the chorus, strikes a satisfying pleading note that opens up the song as a whole. It’s one of the most heartfelt and plaintive love songs in recent memory and avoids the standard tropes of the style. It is one of the album’s most commercial moments, as well, without ever sacrificing its credibility to win the listener’s favor. Nick Phoenix’s Wide World reaches for far more than your everyday pop and leaves a lasting impact on listeners that’s well worth revisiting.

 

Loren Sperry

 

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