Phil Cody,
Mad Dog Sessions
(Tiny Head, 2002)

What a pleasure it is to listen to Mad Dog Sessions, folk-rocker Phil Cody's third CD recorded in 1996, mixed and mastered in 2002, and released to a world that should demand this music be played in heavy rotation on every adult alternative and college radio station in America.

While not blessed with the greatest set of pipes, Cody's voice nevertheless fits in nicely with the music he plays and his singing should offend no one. The band functions mostly as an ensemble but there are a few notable solos throughout and everyone playing on the sessions turns in a professional job. Standout performances include Duncan Aldrich's sax solo on "I Am A Thief," lots of electric organ and piano by Rami Jaffe, keyboard player for the Wallflowers, and Andy Kamman's drum work.

Cody wrote 17 of the 20 songs on this album. The disc was culled from among 34 songs he and the band recorded over a three-day period. Clocking in at 71:50, a CD of this length would qualify as a double album in the days of the long-lost LP. At a time when too many artists fill an entire CD because they can and include stuff they should leave on the cutting room floor, Mad Dog Sessions is a wonder. One may think that this may be too much Cody at one sitting but rest assured, he could justify releasing every one of these tracks. No two arrangements sound the same, not an easy feat with a work of this length.

But the real stars of this album, and the primary focus of any folk-rock work, are Cody's lyrics. With songs that alternate between cynical, humorous and sad, Cody succeeds at setting the proper mood. The disc opens with Woody Guthrie-style social commentary on the historically accurate banjo and harmonica piece "Orphan Train," continues with the upbeat country song "Joe's Neck of the Woods" and moves on to the CD's best rocker, "Six Diamond Baguettes," about a broken love affair. On "1984" he reminisces about his childhood without getting maudlin or syrupy. There is even little electronic music on the introduction and fade of "I Was a Stepping Stone." A little psychedelic organ and similar lyrical sensibilities decorate "She Chases Rainbows," in which Cody sings "She carved her name inside my soul."

Even his taste in cover songs is impeccable. He sings Warren Zevon's "Splendid Isolation," a serious song about the protagonist's demand for solitude in a very busy world -- which ironically is my favorite track on the disc -- then shows us another side of himself closing the CD with a slowed down version of a mostly acoustic guitar and bongo version of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas." His eclecticism is the hallmark of this album.

There is only minor quibble with the entire project: no lyric sheet is attached, a must with a work of this sort. At times, the arrangements tend to bury Cody's vocals in the mix and you will miss lyrics that are important to fully experiencing the song. But even this oversight works in his favor because the words you do comprehend are so interesting you listen far more closely to this CD than you would to one with printed lyrics because you are demanding to take it all in.

This CD will finish very high on my list of the best discs of 2002.

- Rambles
written by Charlie Ricci
published 14 December 2002