Utah Phillips,
Good Though!
(1973; Rounder Records, 1997)

First released in 1973 and now reissued on compact disc by Rounder Records, Good Though! exemplifies the sometimes illicit affair that Utah (Bruce) Phillips has maintained with steam railroading and bums throughout his life.

Phillips, now based in Nevada City, California, and limited to performing about once a month due to a heart ailment, is a larger-than-life figure who has developed into a counter-culture icon. His music and his philosophical riffs (some funny and some poignant) on government, society and people in general, come through grandly on this disc.

He opens with "Cannonball Blues," a live cut, and jumps right into some topical (back then) humor in between verses. At times, he leaves the listener wondering if the music is there to fill in the space between his observations and puns, or vice versa. But, in effect, it is all Utah Phillips.

"Daddy, What's a Train?" was written for Phillips' son, Duncan, and remains applicable (probably even more so) today. For Phillips, far too many youngsters are growing up without ever having ridden on a train and are missing out on experiencing one of this country's seminal methods of travel. For Phillips, steam trains should be placed on an endangered species list, lest we lose yet another tie to our cultural heritage in the name of progress.

His rendition of "Moose Turd Pie," a story developed by Phillips out of a song along the same lines, is worth the price of this disc alone and rightfully remains a collector's item. For better or worse, he will forever be identified as the spinner of the Moose Turd Pie tale -- a story, according to Haywire Brack that is "a tale apotheosized over the years into pluperfect fecal badinage."

Phillips' songs primarily provide the railroading love and lore that is at the core of Phillips although the characters often portrayed within them mirror both the wondrous peaks and the shameful valleys of the human spirit. His stories, humor and puns portray an almost vaudevillian ethos but are always grounded in the defense of the underdog, coupled with a commanding respect for human rights and environmental concerns.

This release provides well-rounded insight into both the man and the performer and would be a good foot in the door into the world of Utah Phillips.

[ by Kevin McCarthy ]

Buy Good Though! from Amazon.com.