If you saw Phil Madeira sitting alone in a café, a worn baseball cap on a head long abandoned by hair, a circle beard highlighting a face that has seen nearly fifty years of life, a sarcastic twinkle in his weathered eyes, you would find him quite approachable. Sit down and chat and you would find a very amiable, very normal "guy" making his way through life, enjoying sports and his family. Ask him about his job and you'll find that he is best "known" as a session Hammond B-3 Organ player in Nashville. He is also a co-writer of songs with many darlings of contemporary Christian music (including Amy Grant, Michael English and Michael Card), had a song included on the Touched By An Angel soundtrack and, oh yeah, one of his songs was recorded by Garth Brooks (well, his alter-ego Chris Gaines). Despite his activity in the Christian music scene, Off Kilter is not a Christian album. It is raw, dark and searching, full of the pain of life, not the pre-digested answers contained in much of the saccharine radio ditties of that genre. These songs are like the aching, unsettling part of you that only surfaces when things are very still, which is why we all stuff our lives so full of activities. But Madeira explores this hidden yearning, plumbing the depths of his own emptiness, not as someone who has all the answers as dictated by his church, but as a man in his late 40s, finding only more questions in the painful turns life throws you. While known for his B-3 work, this album is all guitar (played exceedingly well… didn't I mention that aside from drums he plays all the instruments?) matched with Madeira's naked and vulnerable tenor voice that at all times sounds like it's about to crack from the weight of the emotion it carries. The style is a kind of Americana, a blend of rock, pop, country, and blues that tends to fall into a stylistic no-man's land. While almost all of the twelve songs hit some kind of nerve with me, far and away the most resounding is "Jagged Heart". Here Madeira takes a hard look at his life with a chorus of "I've been carving/ Stripping back the bark / Rounding off the edges/ Of a jagged heart." Of course, it's the heart-rending melody that brings life to these lyrics and once again, words fail to capture such magic. Again and again, these solid songs supported by solid musicianship strike deep, hitting the hidden, longing part of you that can't be revealed to even your closest friend, and yet Phil bares his soul as only a master songwriter can, bringing the comfort of companionship to others in the midst of his own pain.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, November 2001.