All At Once is Keaggy and a stellar assortment of friends creating some rockin’ blues and tasty pop – you can’t go wrong with that…

All At Once

Phil Keaggy 

Strobie Records

14 tracks / 58 minutes

It’s been two years since Phil Keaggy gave us the third instrumental studio project from the excellent ‘trio’ series featuring Phil, long-time collaborator John Sferra on drums, and Jack Giering on keyboards.  Infinity Unleashed, was a solid, funky, jazzy, bluesy effort featuring dazzling musical one-upmanship from the three principals. Still, it would be a four year wait for Keaggy to follow up his last studio ‘vocal’ album, The Cover of Love – and for fans of the iconic guitarist and CCM veteran that’s four years too long. At last, All At Once is here and shows the singer/guitarist/songwriter in fine form, both vocally and on his guitar.

A tri-fold digipak case opens to reveal a retro-looking CD, designed to mimic the look of a little vinyl LP and bearing the promise of ‘Philophonic’ sound. If you’re a credits-geek (which I am) you’ll be thrilled to be able to dig right in, song by song, and see who-does-what-with who – and it’s quite an impressive list. Phil wrote or co-wrote everything with the exception of the title track (written by Gordon Kennedy and Ben Cooper) and the Elisha Hoffman hymn, “I Must Tell Jesus,” which closes the album.  There are a lot of familiar names among the other collaborators – names like Tommy Coomes, Bill Batstone, Lenny LeBlanc, Mike Pachelli, Will McFarlaine, Ashley Cleveland, Ian Keaggy (Phil’s son) and others. The crisp, clean production was shared by Phil and a variety of cohorts, and the list of guest musicians is impressive indeed, including not only several of the people already mentioned but such legendary players as Zappa alumni Chester Thompson on drums and co-founder of the original Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Al Kooper on organ.                                                

Since the last Phil Keaggy studio ‘vocal’ project featuring mostly Keaggy-authored songs was Dream Again, that makes All At Once the theoretical follow-up to that album, but even those expecting a thematic sequel to the pop/love song collection, The Cover of Love, might be surprised by the number of songs here that are not pop tunes but are based deeply in the blues – fully half, by my count. In fact, the album starts off with the decidedly bluesy, ‘back off boogaloo’ funk of “Mercy,” followed by the blues-rock of “Undertow,” and then the simmering “Call The Doctor.”

The Beatle-esque “All At Once,” comes next, and is a captivating ballad that lodges into your head and stays there. The title-track turns a musical corner and introduces a trio of more conventional rock/pop songs starting with the bouncy “I Love The Way You Love Me,” where Phil gets to sing a happy love song with a very McCartney-like vocal lick borrowed from “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Next comes “La, La, La Love You,” with a sing-along chorus and a deliberately-paced verse that lets you get your “My Sharona” on. “My Guitar’s In Love” gets back into a rock groove that teases with some very bluesy licks.

The legendary Al Kooper lends some tasty keyboard soloing to “Stay Home Baby,” the kind of boogie-fueled blues that could turn a concert into a party. A great riff and some barrel-house piano launches “Fearless Love” - a hard-driving message song that would have served Canned Heat well back in the day. A “Gotta’ Serve Somebody” groove sets up “Not Be Moved,” with Keaggy throwing in some unexpected chord changes in the instrumental passages, playing some fiery, but sweetly melodic guitar runs. Sharing vocals with Ashley Cleveland, Phil translates the story of the valley of dry bones into a rock-steady blues in “Ezekiel.”

Playing some clean, Mark Knopfler-like licks on “I Prayed For You,” Keaggy sings about fighting some unseen battles for a friend. The album’s only instrumental track, “Breathe,” follows – essentially an airy, ethereal display of soaring guitar work over a bed of synth, drums, and bass. The final word is the old hymn, “I Must Tell Jesus,” delivered by Phil, employing distinctly ‘gospel-style’ vocal phrasing over a small choir, organ, bass, drums, and – of course – guitar.

There are two surprises here: first, that the song writing was more collaborative than expected, and second, the extent to which this is a blues album. As expected, there are some absolutely stunning moments of guitar work on All At Once, and if you’re like me you might wish some of the solos could have been extended a bit, since you can’t get too much of a Phil Keaggy guitar solo. 

All At Once is Phil Keaggy in collaboration with some legendary writers and players. While some of his past solo efforts featured a more progressive pop sound, here we have the great Phil Keaggy in his element, playing with a band and having a great time – and the result is an album you’ll play loud and play often.

Bert Saraco