Recording information: Audio Dallas; Rewind Studios, New York, NY; The Sparks Enterprises Funk Labs.
Photographer: Nick Walker .
Phillip Phillips belongs to the second tier of American Idol success stories: not as a superstar, not like Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson, but as somebody who found a solid little niche. Phillips' sound is adult alternative by way of the Dave Matthews Band, an influence evident on both the show and his 2012 debut, The World from the Side of the Moon, and still prominent on his 2014 sophomore set, Behind the Light. Like his debut, Behind the Light is co-produced by Gregg Wattenberg -- he can claim credits on Five for Fighting, David Cook, Backstreet Boys, and Ed Kowalczyk -- but there's a difference here, namely how all involved decide to incorporate a heavy element of Mumford & Sons and Lumineers folk-stomp. It's a smooth, easy fit for Phillips, who is a troubadour at heart, a sensitive soul strumming his acoustic guitar, sounding sweet enough to withstand the kind of cinematic productions he's given here. Often, the bombast of the sound contradicts the simplicity of the singer, but his slippery cadences -- he's never seemed more like Matthews as he slides in and out of verses -- don't sound ill-suited to the onslaught of gloss; he's dexterous enough to make all the slickness feel natural, if not authentic. At times, the ease of his delivery gives Behind the Light a supercilious feeling -- he's enjoying his delivery more than the content -- but even if the record doesn't rely on expertly sculpted melodies (which it doesn't; the feel means more than the form), there's an open-hearted, warm atmosphere that gives Behind the Light resonance. Perhaps Phillips has yet to find his distinctive voice, but there's no question he can color within the lines exceedingly well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine