Valdosta Daily Times

Features

February 23, 2014

South Georgia musician’s new CD is ‘Kickin’ Up Dust’

RAY CITY — Justin Phillips is a student of country music who may one day become its master.

His debut CD, “Kickin’ Up Dust,” indicates the 24-year-old South Georgian is already on his way to making the leap to either performing star or prominent songwriter in contemporary country music. Any one of the 12 tracks on Phillips’ CD sounds like the stuff of a 21st century, baseball-cap-wearing country singer’s hit on the radio.

Phillips wrote every song on “Kickin’ Up Dust,” and even the titles share some of the lyrical hooks he invests in each one of his tunes. There’s the title song of cowboy boots “Kickin’ Up Dust.” “Put Her on a Tailgate.” “She Rocks My Blue Jeans.” “I Want My T-Shirt Back."’

They are songs with timeless country themes of love, hurt, cowboy boots, trucks and alcohol, but with a modern country sensibility, a la Luke Bryan, of bogging, tailgating, and music suited for an outdoor field party.

To reach this point, Phillips admits he studied country music, playing, singing, and songwriting, though he also had some genetic influence.

His father, Allen Phillips, played music as a youngster, a drummer who enjoyed playing Beatles tunes as a kid. By high school, Allen Phillips was more interested in sports than music. As a young adult, he worked and raised a family. Until, at the age of 40, he became interested again in music and began playing and singing at clubs with the Allen Phillips Band, the Stevie Ray Vaughn tribute band Cold Shot, and other groups throughout South Georgia, North Florida and other areas during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

It was Allen Phillips’ son, Brandon, who requested a guitar, but it was Justin who picked up this guitar and started teaching himself to play at the age of 16. He was always practicing chords. By the age of 18, Justin joined dad Allen in playing area stages.

Though playing guitar in a band and having loved since childhood singing along to the radio, Justin originally wasn’t comfortable singing before an audience. He felt his voice was awful, but he understood the importance of a voice in performing music. The younger Phillips spent hours singing alone, searching for his voice, before ever singing on stage. He hoped to sing and perform rock songs but eventually realized his voice was more in tune with country music.

His songwriting also seemed better suited for country, though Phillips admits he studied songwriting, learning what he liked, boiling down what he wanted to say, looking for those lyrical hooks to serve as the foundations for his songs, then capitalizing on them to tell the story or set the appropriate mood for each song.

Though he loves performing for an audience, Phillips has come to enjoy songwriting as much. He could easily imagine himself writing hit songs for other country artists, while he performing as the man who wrote other people’s hits. For example, he can imagine Kenny Chesney performing the Justin Phillips-written song “Sun Tans,” though Phillips does just fine performing the song himself on “Kickin’ Up Dust.”

While the CD showcases Phillips’ songwriting chops, it also proves he’s more than able to perform them. The CD emphasizes his performance abilities. Phillips recorded the CD in producer Gary DiBenedetto’s Studio D in Moultrie.

Phillips has also been performing acoustic sets of his songs throughout the region. He hopes to audition musicians soon to form an accompanying band for a tour. The CD’s title track has been receiving pay on XM Radio’s The Highway.

Since the album’s release first online late last year and as a CD early this year, Phillips has seen his Twitter followers rise from about 14,000 to more than 60,000 in the past few months.

Radio play, bookings, band auditions, tours, promotions ... these are Phillips’ next lessons to learn. If he handles them like he has past lessons, we’ll likely see and hear a lot more of Justin Phillips in the future.

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