"Writing on the Wall" - Music Review

Artist:   Jill Phillips
Label:  Fervent Records

Let me just be straight with you: This is an excellent record. And I don’t say that often these days. "Writing on the Wall" is Jill Phillips’ third impressive album, following her self-titled debut for Word and 2001’s independent project, "God & Money" (which helped her earn a CCM Readers’ Award last year for “Best Independent Artist”).

After years of touring with artists ranging from Caedmon’s Call to Watermark, Phillips has signed with a new record label and crafted her strongest album of acoustic folk-pop to date. "Writing on the Wall" features many vocal and instrumental luminaries, including Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Stephen Mason (Jars of Clay), Matt Slocum (Sixpence None the Richer) and Phil Madeira. Co-producing the project with Matt Stanfield (Plumb) and her husband and frequent co-writer, Andy Gullahorn, Phillips appears poised to break in a big way.

The album kicks off with the hook-laden first single, “Wrecking Ball,” and continues with 10 more songs of wit and wisdom, failure and faith. Phillips penned three of the strongest tunes: “Wisdom” (a rendering of the book of Proverbs), “Hanging On” (“I believe that I need to let go of these things to be free/ So help me stop this hanging on”) and “Sacred” (“It is not too late to choose/ The narrow winding way that few men do”). She also co-wrote five others with Gullahorn, including the has-to-be-a-No. 1-hit “Grace and Peace.” The album’s sole cover song is the Pierce Pettis gem, “God Believes in You,” which also appeared on "God & Money" but deserves another listen because of its simple but profound message of hope.

At the risk of sounding downright gushy, everything on this project is outstanding: Phillips’ vocals are warm and rich, the writing is brilliant and the production is appropriately complementary. And while September may seem early for such a statement, this is undoubtedly one of the year’s best.

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