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When Phil Vassar strode to the podium last May to accept his Top New Male Vocalist Award at the 37th Academy of Country Music Awards, one fact was made crystal clear: America has a bona fide career artist on its hands.
From Willie Nelson to Neil Diamond, from Carole King to Billy Joel to Bruce Springsteen, the most compelling and soulful artists of the modern era have combined cut-to-the-heart songwriting with a solo performance charisma that dazzles fans and critics alike. Phil Vassar joins this elite group, an all-around performer who seals the deal with his new sophomore release, American Child.
As a singer, songwriter and performer, Vassar is artistically a triple-threat. He first exploded up the charts and out of America's radios with his self-titled 2000 Arista Nashville debut. That CD yielded the #1 single "Just Another Day in Paradise," as well as the Top Ten hits "Carlene," "Rose Bouquet," "Six-Pack Summer" and "That's When I Love You."
It's been a busy two years since. He's earned both CMA and ACM Awards nominations, culminating in his 2002 ACM win for Top New Male Vocalist. He's shared stages with the biggest names in country music including, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney and Jo Dee Messina. Audience response to Vassar was immediate and intense. Like Billy Joel, Vince Gill and Elton John, Phil Vassar is getting used to concert audiences spontaneously singing along to his songs.
Many more folks will soon be joining in on a whole new passel of this man's hits. American Child is passionate proof that this charismatic singing piano-man is a solo star in his own right.
American Child reunites Vassar with his debut co-producer Byron Gallimore. Together the two expand on their winning production sound, delivering a fresh, contemporary take on country music that moves from rootsy accents of fiddle, mandolin, acoustic and steel guitar to numbers that rock with a muscular pop sensibility.
It's a journey that spans the breadth of love and Phil Vassar spares no emotion in the telling. A vocalist with the power to whisper and soar in the same breath, Vassar's burnished delivery moves from wounding pleas to heartfelt declarations. He's that rare vocalist who can alternately pack a dance floor and soothe a lonely night; a singer who can bust a honky-tonk wide open or make an arena feel as intimate as a living room.
Vassar's a complete artist whose performance rings true in every setting, whether he's kicking out the honky-tonk footlights on the brisk country-rocker "Houston," unashamedly shouting his love from the rooftops on the orchestral "I'll Be the One," or bearing into the sexy, southern-fried guitar squawk of "Athens Grease." He's equally at home laying down a rocking ultimatum on "Someone You Love" or expressing heartbreaking vulnerability on "Forgettin's So Long." On the title track, Vassar's emotional patriotism won't leave a dry eye in the house.
Vassar co-wrote all 12 tracks, teaming up with an array of skillful tunesmiths that includes Rob Thomas, lead singer of the modern-rock outfit Matchbox 20; Miles Zuniga of pop-punk sensation Fastball; wife, Julie Vassar; and such insightful Nashville veterans as Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman.
Now happily married and the father of four-year-old daughter Haley, Vassar draws artistic inspiration from his store of current and past experiences. His own personal influences run the gamut of country, pop and folk, but regardless of genre, they all share one commonality: honesty.
It's no surprise that Vassar's main influences are all powerhouse superstars who also wrote and performed their own material. "What I love about the great singer-songwriters is that they lyrically break situations down to the most minute detail, without 'mooning and juning' it to death," he says. "For me it was always Billy Joel, James Taylor, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. People who wrote about their own lives. From album to album, you knew where they were going. I couldn't wait for the next record to see what they'd been doing for the last year or two."
It's a testament to Vassar's artistic depth that all of his songs resonate with that "real deal" quality. Anyone who has loved and lost and lived to love again will recognize themselves.
"Falling in love is fun," Vassar says, "but of course, love isn't always happy. Every once in a while you have hard times and you make it through them or you don't. A lot of people say you write your best songs when you're going through something devastating and I can see that. It's so important to get your feelings out. Some people go to therapy and some people just write songs."
Vassar's own rise to the top was ten years in the making. Arriving in Music City in 1987, he threw himself into performance and songwriting. By the mid-'90s he was running his own Nashville club-restaurant where he performed on the weekends. Word spread about the gifted performer and piano-man who was holding court onstage, and his club was soon packed with local crowds hungry for Vassar's substantive songs and riveting stage performance.
Industry insiders took note as well. Vassar penned hits for a number of top artists including, Tim McGraw ("For a Little While," "My Next Thirty Years"), Alan Jackson ("Right on the Money") Jo Dee Messina ("Bye Bye," "I'm Alright") and Collin Raye ("Little Red Rodeo").
However, Vassar's talent as a solo artist in his own right was undeniable to those who saw him onstage and heard his passionate demo performances. He signed with Arista Nashville and his gold-certified 2000 debut was an out-of-the-gate sensation. The Country Music Association honored him with a nomination for its prestigious CMA Horizon Award in 2001. His many performance awards include ASCAP Country Artist/Songwriter of the Year for 2001, Billboard magazine Top New Country Artist of the Year for 2000, and Music Row magazine Breakthrough Artist of the Year for 2000.
His songwriting has been similarly honored. In 1999 he was named Country Songwriter of the Year by ASCAP, and in 1998 he was named Billboard magazine Country Songwriter of the Year and Music Row Magazine Breakthrough Writer of the Year.
Now, with American Child, Phil Vassar solidifies his standing as a rare voice in modern music: a passionate artist with the power to hook listeners for life.