Phosphorescent: Shining A Light On Country Rock

Videos by American Songwriter

Stream songs from Here’s To Taking It Easy:

[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Phosphorescent – It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” dl=”0″]
[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Phosphorescent – The Mermaid Parade” dl=”0″]

“If there was a mission statement in Phosphorescent, it would be to follow whatever these songs are becoming on any given day,” says Matthew Houck at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium at the tail end of a long run of shows.

For the most part, Phosphorescent has served as a mouthpiece for Houck and, almost as a rule, they’ve been evolving for the better part of a decade. Where for the average band a change of sound could mean a severe crippling, it’s the accepted norm for Phosphorescent. But for having such a penchant for the oft-unheard musings of the South, the band’s latest incarnation produces by far its most direct musical sound. If Pride, their 2007 breakout and the sharpest culmination of their former selves, had a rotating door of contributors to realize Houck’s autonomous vision, and To Willie—a tasteful covers record that explored the various modes and moods of Willie Nelson—took in a stray road band to authenticate that signature Nashville sound, their latest, Here’s to Taking It Easy, fully adopts that band for an entirely fresh take on the Phosphorescent brand.

At times, Phosphorescent tend to the brittle undergrowth of southern music. A cross-pollination of outlaw country and druggy neo-folk, their sound offers a delicate melange of quasi-Americana, belonging to the sun-starved footpaths their influences only peered at and stopped short of. Other times, like last year’s To Willie, the band hits the open road and freely acknowledges those influences without looking back. What were once cerebral soundscapes meandering through a narcotic haze are revamped into a virtual Outlaw’s digest of love-lost ballads and raucous, whiskey-driven salutes to postponed sobriety.

“This is definitely not the sort of record where you end up thinking about how this person holed themselves up to make it,” explains Houck. “I think Here’s to Taking It Easy, title and everything, was specifically an acknowledgment of those ‘easy’ records I love with all my heart. Like a lot of Rolling Stones and ‘70s Dylan, where it sounds like they’re just doing it and that’s it…but it’s really a monster. It’s massive.”

In the same way the Stones took Delta blues and transformed it into off-the-cuff swamp rock for Exile on Main Street, or how Rumours bent Fleetwood Mac’s digestible soft rock toward confessional singer-songwriter-isms, Here’s to Taking It Easy could be described as Phosphorescent’s take on themselves as a six-piece touring band.

The current roster includes Jesse Anderson Ainslie behind Houck on guitar; Scott Stapleton manning the keys; Jeff Bailey and Chris Marine keeping rhythm with bass and drums; and Ricky Ray Jackson lending a saccharine haze to the songs on pedal steel. That lineup tends to express itself most obviously in laidback country-rock reminiscent of Crazy Horse’s prime—music better blaring out your car stereo on a night drive than blocked off to the world in headphones, as was once proper for the band.

Opener “It’s Hard To Be Humble (When You’re From Alabama)” recalls the drowsy horn interludes of 2005’s Aw Come Aw Wry and puts a thick coat of “Rocks Off” sheen on them. A distant toast to Houck’s home state, the song kicks off with a complaint: “All these cities, ain’t they all starting to look all the same,” cooking up his own rendition of the traditional world-weary road song. Only now that Phosphorescent has taken to such a traditional turn, Houck hardly seems worn thin, despite having been on the road and mostly under the radar since debuting in 2003, and having more than earned the right to gripe a little. If anything, the song’s buoyancy and blasting brass point to the fact that Phosphorescent are just glad to be along for the ride, even if it seems never-ending and always farther from home. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Houck and the band even relish a shared grumble, knowing that they’d take another blistering tour in a heartbeat.


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