“Age does change us, and it’s a good thing that it does…I can’t believe how far I’ve come,” sings Phil Vassar in “Twenty One,” a new song written and recorded for his new album, Greatest Hits, Volume 1. Those words—and that song—may be the cornerstone of Phil’s new CD, a career-spanning collection of 15 songs that paints a complete portrait of Phil Vassar, the artist—singer, songwriter, entertainer…father, son, guy next door.
Greatest Hits, Volume 1 is more than an assemblage of hit songs—it’s a project that brings Phil’s musical career full-circle. Phil moved to Nashville from his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia hoping to make a name for himself as a singer. But songwriting proved to be his calling card—the key that opened doors and earned Phil the recognition of the industry and his peers in the latter half of the ’90s.
He got his moment in the spotlight a couple years later, though. Signed to Arista Nashville, Phil recorded the first of three albums (to date), and for the first time country radio listeners and fans got to hear his voice deliver the lyrics and melodies he wrote.
On Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Phil reconnects with those songs that first made a name for him in Music City, USA. You know the songs—chart-topping hits made famous by the likes of Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, Jo Dee Messina and others. But for the first time on CD, you can hear them the way they were originally written and conceived…in the voice that first gave them life and breath. Phil sees his new album as a chance for him to do what some of his favorite composers have done. “I always like to hear the songwriter do the song. Nobody does a song better than the songwriter. Especially if they lived it and breathed it. That’s where the best songs come from.” Call it “Phil Vassar: In His Own Words”—in a more complete volume and form than he’s ever created before.
“Every song that I’ve ever written I can remember what I was thinking or why I wrote the song,” Phil notes. Such is the case with “Bye, Bye” and “I’m Alright” (chart hits for Jo Dee Messina)—the first found its origins in a divorce, while the latter was penned as a note to a lifelong friend after he and Phil had spent years separated by time and distance. Here—in Phil’s voice—these songs get the treatment you might have heard if you’d caught Phil playing a Nashville bar or club in the early or mid-’90s. A man and his piano, serving up glimpses of his past in words and images that could’ve been lifted from nearly anyone’s life.
As Phil revisits the songs that first put him on the map, he’s also offering fans some of his most honest and revealing music ever. Greatest Hits, Volume 1 includes three new songs, written and recorded specifically for this project.
“I’ve still got that wild streak you love…but I think I like me better now”—another line from “Twenty One,” one of those three new songs. “I think ‘Twenty One’ is my new life story,” Phil says. It may also be—along with the other two new songs—Phil’s most revealing look at his real-life story since “American Child.” The words are taken directly from Phil’s life—“I couldn’t get gone fast enough…I took a match to every bridge back then” gives us a hint of Phil’s youth, a childhood spent under the roof of a “dynamic, talented, very intense, complicated” father who was also, on occasion, abusive. Music and sports were Phil’s escape—one fed his creativity, while the other fueled his drive and ambition. The competitive spirit he applied to track and football would later help him persevere as an aspiring singer-songwriter in Nashville.
Phil’s father was a singer—a crooner who toured the country but found himself frustrated when his dreams of fame failed to materialize. While he inspired Phil, he also challenged him. But for those moments, Phil’s mom was there…and her nurturing and compassion are the inspiration behind “The Woman in My Life.” “The most important women in my life are my mother, my wife and my girls—my kids—so I incorporated them all.” The song is another revealing and very personal piece—Phil’s depiction of his mother in the first verse sets the stage—and provides the emotional stability—that will lead him to the love of his life (co-writer and wife, Julie) in the second verse…and to the two daughters whose lives he celebrates in the third.
Phil calls up even more emotion in “The Last Day of My Life,” the album’s first single. In it, he contemplates that most personal—and yet universal—of fears…his mortality. “Every day is a gift. You’re not guaranteed anything.” It sounds simple, but it took the death of a close friend—songwriter Robert Byrne (“Rose Bouquet”)—in 2005 to draw this song to the surface. “He was one of my best friends and one of my mentors,” Phil recalls. “He would say you’ve got to open a vein. That was his thing. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to open a vein when you write a song.’” Phil applies that lesson…and pays his comrade the ultimate tribute by turning his death in the song’s first lines into the inspiration for living life to the fullest—something Phil also applies to his daily life.
Three compelling new songs…newly minted versions of five fan-favorites that he wrote…and in between, a list of back-to-back hits. Phil Vassar’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1 is filled with nothing but Top 10 songs, and nearly half of them made the trip all the way to number-one. “Carlene” got things rolling for Phil in 1999. “Just Another Day in Paradise,” “Six-Pack Summer” and “That’s When I Love You” followed. “American Child” was the lead single and title track of Phil’s second album…and his most recent effort, Shaken Not Stirred, gave us the chart-topping “In a Real Love” and “I’ll Take That As a Yes.”
Each is an example of Phil’s craftsmanship and skill as a writer and performer. In “Carlene,” Phil combines elements of his own youth with the image of a supermodel as the high school valedictorian—a combination of fact and fiction triggered when he saw a profile of Cindy Crawford on Biography. “In a Real Love” is a similar mix of past and present—the teenager working for minimum wage was plucked from Phil’s high school yearbook, but the news of a baby on the way was taken from the reality of the present day. “Just Another Day in Paradise” was written on a day when all hell was breaking loose in the Vassar household—Phil woke up late and the washing machine really had flooded the kitchen. Each wave of “Six-Pack Summer” rolls with the moment it was conceived—on a boat, with friends and a cooler of beer nearby. “That’s When I Love You,” written with wife Julie, celebrates the attraction that drew them together…and “I’ll Take That As a Yes” seethes with the energy and vitality of the relationship that followed.
These songs—together on a single disc—show Phil Vassar as he was meant to be seen and heard. Here he is the everyman—the father, son, friend—whose stories resonate with each of us. Here—on CD—he’s every bit the entertainer he is onstage night-after-night. Here he is the songwriter we’ve known for years…but also the singer—a voice of depth and conviction that can only come from true experience and real-life emotion. It’s a voice Phil has always had, but these songs allow him to put it forward in a way he’s never done before—much as he does in concert. Maybe it’s because those early hits written for others carry so much sentimental value…maybe it’s because the three new songs evoke so raw feelings…and maybe it’s because—as he compiles his first Greatest Hits collection—Phil Vassar has grown comfortable with being the artist that he is and has always been. “I was a singer way before I was a songwriter. I had to develop that songwriting talent, that piano playing,” Phil recalls. On Greatest Hits, Volume 1 he gets to put all of those talents on display…and to do so with songs that truly span the breadth of his career.
Maybe when he looks in the mirror now, Phil sees the complete package everyone else does—the multi-talented performer who drew inspiration from the likes of Billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and Jerry Lee Lewis as a young man…who found a way to combine their influence with the bluegrass and mountain music that he heard from the hills of his native Virginia…added to it the R-&-B rhythms that wafted in from the shores of the Carolina coasts not far away…and brought his dreams and music to Nashville in the hope that someone there would help him find a place for his music. “It’s been a crazy tumultuous little journey, but it’s been fun as hell,” he says. “I’d say this project has really healed a lot of wounds, but I don’t think they were really wounds. But I do know it’s put closure on a lot of stuff. It’s the best work I’ve ever put together.”
You know the songs, but you’ve never really heard them…until now. And after you’ve listened to Phil Vassar’s Greatest Hits, Volume 1, you may discover that you didn’t fully know the man behind them…until now.