CD: Daydream Alley
Artist: Holland Phillips

Daydream AlleyIn the immortal words of John Lennon: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” That is something I, and I’m sure many people reading this can relate to, including multi-instrumentalist/ composer Holland Philips, whose fourth and latest release, Daydream Alley, reflects. Some dreams happen when we are sleeping and others while we are awake. Of his album title, Holland shares: “Life is full of daydreams and the possibilities of the roads taken and not taken. We travel down the main street most of the time, but sometimes we come to an alley, an off shoot, a side road, and we look down it and wonder what would happen if we went that way instead. I titled this album Daydream Alley because that’s basically what the songs on the album are about – finding that place where you can dream, and let your thoughts wander.” Daydream Alley is an intriguing collection of tunes that explore many diverse musical side roads.


The diversity embodied in Holland’s music is not surprising, given his background. Growing up in Connecticut, with a fatherHolland Phillips who was a jazz and big band aficionado, and a mother who was a music teacher, gave Holland an early exposure to a great variety of instruments. Although he started at a very young age on piano and later on guitar at the age of 8, he would often pick up other instruments that were in the house and experiment with them. And speaking of John Lennon, The Beatles were a formative influence on Holland as a child. By the time he got to high school, Holland was listening to progressive rock and bands like as Yes, Pink Floyd, Styx, Rush, Kansas and many more.” However, while in college where Holland earned a B.A. Degree in Music Composition he became deeply immersed in classical music, especially Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. After college, he played in a variety of groups, from a folk duo in New York City, to classic rock and Southern rock bands. He even played in an ensemble that specialized in show tunes. As time went on, Holland developed an interest in the growing genre of electronic music and artists like Vangelis, Wendy Carlos, and particularly the solo albums of Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, as well as the production and arranging skills of Alan Parsons.


vibesIn addition to all these influences and real world experiences, there is also a metaphysical aspect to Holland’s creative process. As he shared with me in an interview: “People talk sometimes about meeting someone that they immediately liked – an instant connection. At the same time, they might meet someone and right away know they aren’t going to hit it off – not for any particular reason or anything they might’ve said, but the feeling is real. I believe that’s because people emit harmonics, or waves of vibrations, and sometimes those vibration mesh nicely with yours and sometimes they clash. It’s that unspoken knowledge that you know when you relate to someone. I can feel those vibrations in people, even though I often try not to. I tend to focus on creating those same kinds of harmonics in my music, paying attention to the vibrations (or relationship) between the notes and the instruments, and how they all get along with each other. I believe that if I can match those harmonics with someone listening then they’ll enjoy the music, even if they don’t know why. If there’s anything in my music that’s unique, I guess it would be this.”


So lets take a walk through Daydream Alley and explore these vibrations, influences, and side streets. Our first steps lead us to a track called “Etude in D Minor,” which has been described as a “modern classical piece.” Its an interesting description because, although there are neo-classical influences, there are other touches, in particular the electric piano, that add a jazzy new age feel. But a high point in the song is the soaring violin sound that brought to mind jazz-fusion artist Jean Luc Ponty. Also of interest is a three-part counterpoint section between the violin, a group of French horns and the string section, which shine a first light on Holland’s composing and arranging abilities.


One thing that I’d like to point out at this early stage of focusing on Holland’s music is his use of synthesizers, both for _MOOGelectronic sounds as well as their ability to emulate real instruments. While he uses synths extensively for both these purposes, Holland’s orchestral scoring with them is exceptional. As he explains: “As a music composition major, I had a professor who requested I play all the instruments in a symphony orchestra before writing scores for them. So I worked my way through more than a hundred instruments. I said I learned to play them, but I didn’t say I learned to play them all well. But it gives me an advantage over many composers because I can recreate each specific sound having studied how an instrument plays, how it phrases, how much breath is needed, just what possibilities it offers.” The music on Daydream Alley features the sounds of piano, violin, a string section, chimes, bass, drums, oboe, bassoon, sax, percussion, electric piano, French horns, trombones, B3 organ, harpsichord, chimes, flute, percussion, and more in addition to electronic sounds.


A track called “Serendipity” is a fully orchestrated piece with an upbeat airy new age/ fantasy vibe that could appeal to fans of David Arkenstone or Vangelis. A similar feel is also found in the album’s title track, and a song called “Friends” as well. A bit of the diversity I mentioned earlier is particularly found on “Jazz Nite.” Here, Holland describes his mental imagery for this piece: “I could see the smoke filled room, a dimly lit stage, and two keyboardists playing back and forth in concert with each other. The first is a jazz oriented piano player, the second a keyboardist with less jazz and more pop oriented. Their licks complement each other and work well with the music being played, even though they play in different styles.” I don’t know if it is the night theme, but a track called “Last Nite Out,” also reflects the jazzy side of Holland’s musical spectrum with its smooth jazz sax melody.


Time-0518As a musician, a track I particularly enjoyed, and one that further highlights Holland’s compositional skills is “Changing Times,” which he describes in this way: “Changing Times” is a dichotomy. It’s about how things change, but it does that by starting in 4/4 time and then changing to 3/4 time and back again, all with an underlying instrument playing in 7/8, 5/8 and 4/4 time randomly. The cool part is that it’s hard to hear the changes unless you know what you’re listening for. It’s the most technical piece on the album, and was a fun one to play.” Another standout piece for me was the closing track entitled “Colors.” This song, for me, evoked feelings of grandeur and majesty, and felt like a soundtrack in search of a movie.


I’ve talked a bit about some of the various influences that have shaped Holland’s music over the years. However, one thing I found very interesting, considering that his music is categorized in the new age genre, is that he doesn’t listen to this kind of music. As he explains: “The only thing currently I never listen to is new age music, not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t want to be influenced by others in the same venue. I want to do my best to keep my songs pure, a culmination of my experiences and what I hear, without adding something that someone else might have done in the same arena.” So, while I have mentioned other artists as reference points, there is an air of originality to Holland’s music, and a style that is his own. I greatly enjoyed Daydream Alley and was impressed with Holland’s flair for composing and arranging, as well as his formidable instrumental abilities in playing all the tracks on the recording. This is an album that I believe will appeal to a wide range of listeners… and dreamers.