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PHIL VASSAR

 

"Phil Vassar is an awesome pianist, performer and songwriter. He is not a man to cross keyboards with. Hear that, Billy Joel, Elton John and whoever!" --Jimmy Webb

What do you do when you've made it to the top of the mountain?

You've written hits for some of Nashville's top concert headliners -- including yourself. You've been named country songwriter of the year by ASCAP -- twice -- and welcomed into stardom with a "Top New Male Vocalist" award from the Academy of Country Music. You've rocked sold-out crowds all across America. You're on course to keep the good times rolling for years to come.

So … what do you do?

You take it back to your roots. You buy a few six-packs, call your buds, ask them to bring their guitars, and spend some time making music. And if you're Phil Vassar, you keep the tape rolling -- then, when everyone has gone home, you share the results with the world.

On Shaken Not Stirred, his third Arista Nashville release, country music's number one pianist/singer delivers his most compelling record to date.

Each song tells a story -- about the joys of friendship present ("Good Ole Days") and past ("Dancin' with Dreams"), the changing textures of life ("I Miss the Innocence"), and, on the album's first single, the transition from irresponsible youth to adulthood ("In a Real Love"). Each note reflects Phil's growth as a singer, musician, and storyteller.

But equally important, Shaken Not Stirred shows Phil in a new, more personal light.

"We went back to the basics," he says. "I've recorded up until now with great studio musicians, but this one I wanted to cut with my band. I wanted to take that camaraderie we've got from being together on the road and bring it into the studio. I wanted to write with the guys too; I even wrote some of these tracks with our bus driver, who's actually a great songwriter."

There are reasons for this shift in direction, the most important being the birth of Presley, his second daughter. For six months, beginning in November last year, Phil kept off the road and stayed home; the pleasures of family life spilled into the new experience of writing and tracking with his band. "It was the first time off I'd taken in five years," he says. "And it was great, being with the baby and doing this record. I'd never had this much fun working on anything else."

Days fell into a comfortable, though productive, routine: The band would drop by and spend the day writing with Phil and playing through the new tunes, either in the upstairs studio or gathered around the grand piano in the sun room downstairs. From their earliest stages, the songs of Shaken Not Stirred came to life with a live energy that's rare in studio projects.

To keep that spirit intact, Phil decided to lay down the final tracks at Quad Studios, the same facility where years before, as a new kid in town, he had earned pocket money by singing demos. "I used to think, 'Man, these demos sound pretty good,'" he laughs, "so I knew this album would sound even better. I also liked the fact that Quad is smaller than where we cut the last album, which was a great place but so big that I felt like we were working in a gym. For Shaken Not Stirred I wanted us to be closer to each other, like being onstage. I think that vibe comes across really well."

Another relationship, as important as those that bind Phil and his guys, emerges on Shaken Not Stirred. Throughout these writing and recording dates, he felt his connection to the piano strengthening. Of course, its importance to Phil has always been clear, but Shaken Not Stirred draws fully from that union of artist and instrument, precisely because this album is all about what lies in the heart of his music.