That’s the first verse of the very first song of Phil Vassar’s sophomore release for Universal Records South and if anybody has truly lived that lyric in the crazy world that is the music business, it is Phil Vassar. After scoring multiple hits as a songwriter for artists like Tim McGraw, Collin Raye, Alan Jackson and Jo Dee Messina, Phil scored immediate success with his self-titled debut album that was released in early 2000. While hits became harder to come by by the latter years of this decade, Phil rebounded nicely last year with “Love’s A Beautiful Thing” and now with his current single “Everywhere I Go” and this album, Traveling Circus. While the last album Prayer of a Common Man (released in 2008) was a nice record, from the instant that Circus is three songs deep, it’s nice to have the strong, everyman songwriter back doing what he does best, singing slice-of-life vignettes like those that gave him notoriety in the first place.
The previously mentioned Life is a perfect example of this newfound focus and it finds the piano-playin artist singing that instantly relatable lyric about persevering through whatever muck you may come across in life, even if it doesn’t go as you planned it to. It’s a similar message that comes across in “Lemonade” as well and both songs could really become fixtures on radio in the coming year. While the quirky “Bobbi With an I” is on this album, if it weren’t for the success of “Everywhere I Go,” Phil Vassar wouldn’t likely have released Traveling Circus so soon, as it was originally scheduled for a February 2010 release. Written with fellow hit-maker Jeffrey Steele (who wrote “Love Is A Beautiful Thing”), “Everywhere I Go” is one of those songs that sounds good on the radio but is far from the best song on the album. It’s a ‘means to an ends’ so to speak as both “Life” and “Lemonade” and “John Wayne” are much better songs. The latter song, written with Tom Douglas (Who co-wrote the CMA single of the year “I Run To You” with Lady Antebellum), uses the ‘real man’ ideal that was ever present in a John Wayne movie to proclaim the love he has for a woman: “I want to be a real man….cause that’s what he saw his daddy do…in a world where love and heroes fade away, I want to ride in and save the day, I wanna be John Wayne.”
“She’s On The Way” is a sweet piece of fatherly love and advice. Yes, the chorus has a hook but the song is also one of the few moments on the record where Phil slows the pace a bit. The song, written with Tim Nichols and Jeff Outlaw, is certainly something he’s living as the father of a daughter. “She’s On Her Way” may have a similar theme to “Cleanin’ The Gun (C’mon Boy)” and other father-daughter songs of a recent vintage but Vassar’s feels slightly more ‘real’ than one might have expected it to and I think it would make for a great radio single next fall (or even this coming summer). “A Year From Now” Catchy, lyrical and just plain fun, “Save Tonight For Me” feels like a big ole hit and that’s a recurring theme of this record. Every song on the record could be a radio hit.
Even though Phil Vassar’s last few albums featured great songs, they were more just a collection of songs wrapped around singles rather than a cohesive collection of songs that could all be singles. That’s the feeling that I get while listening to this record. Self-produced and played by (mostly) his touring band, Traveling Circus is the work of a rejuvenated artist who not only knows what he wants to record but how he wants to record it. He writes the songs, he sings the songs, he plays the songs and he produces the songs. He’s a modern day one-man shop and it’s something other artists would do well to pay attention to, after all as a working songwriter, they’re used to doing the ‘one-man’ shop thing. Here’s hoping that radio grabs a hold of this record and turns Phil Vassar into a bigger star that he certainly has the talent to become.