Among Christian music's most recognizable faces and voices for more than two decades, singer/songwriter, author and New Zealand native Phil Joel is set for a highly anticipated return to the solo spotlight with Better Than I Found It January 22. The six-song EP was written, recorded and produced entirely by Joel in his home studio during last year's quarantine.
"I'd felt for quite a while that I needed to take some time and musically get back to simply making art, but I didn't know how I was going to make it happen," Joel shares. "Well, 2020 made it happen for me. In March, we got word that touring was off until further notice, so I went home and locked myself away in my studio. It put me in a position to have to make production decisions alone and create a sound that's truly me."
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All The Sounds| Posted January 27, 2021 What You Need to Know Phil Joel has been an integral element of contemporary Christian music for over 20 years. You may recognize him as one of the previous vocalists and bass players for music veterans the Newsboys. He toured with the band until his departure in 2007. He stepped away to focus more on his family.
Prior to Phil's departure, he and his wife, Heather, created deliberatePeople, a ministry that is intent on communicating God's love to others. Besides the ministry, Phil successfully started a new band, Zealand, which was touring regularly pre-COVID. They even opened for Newsboys. Now, he's focusing on his new solo project, Better Than I Found It.
Like most of us, he was quarantined to his home for the majority of 2020, which is where he produced the new EP. Quarantine music has turned out to be a hit in all genres, and Phil's new EP is no exception.
What it Sounds Like Each song is unique, which makes this EP stand out. Some songs center on the piano, while others rely on drums to keep it upbeat. No doubt, each song is a work of art. Phil's deep and soul-lifting voice ties them all together. I especially loved how he uses the tambourine to keep the beat and set a head-bopping rhythm. Phil has embraced the sound of his voice and stretched it to new limits. The instruments compliment his singing perfectly and it makes for some soothing tunes that will get your attention and tug at your heart.
Spiritual Highlights I didn't catch any explicit spiritual references. But, the underlying message is strongly reminiscent of the Bible. For example, in the title track, "Better Than I Found It," the lyrics remind me of a verse in the book of Matthew. Phil sings, "When it's time to leave this place/I wanna leave it better than I found it." Matthew 5:14-16 has a similar perspective: "You are the light of the world...let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." Both speak of changing the world for the better and, given the title of the EP, I'm assuming that is Phil's intent.
Best Song on the Record The best song on the record is "In This Together." Although 2020 is over, much of the craziness that occurred last year carried over into the present. But, on the bright side, this song reminds me of the increased sense of community that has come out of the pandemic. It's an amazing anthem of hope that I know will provide comfort to the hurting and strength to the weak.
Final Word I loved the variety of emotions in the music; I could practically feel them circling around my head as I listened to Phil's new EP. From pure joy to soft questioning to deep contemplation, Phil has perfectly captured his heart in this work. He says that writing the songs for this EP gave him "a fresh excitement about making music." And, listening to them will no doubt give you the same uplifting delight.