Evan Thomas Way & the Phasers’ late spring record, Long Distance, is built for open highways and summer’s indelible Polaroids. The photo cover is a soft invite to join Way, as he stands motionless in Chinatown in Los Angeles.
Way, front man and primary songwriter for the paisley jammers The Parson Red Heads is less interested in a wayward sprawl on this solo endeavor. Pinpointing his current understanding of life’s twists and repeats carries a bulk of the weight. Opener “Don’t Surprise Me” charms with a steady pour of honeyed-ginger vocals and savory instrumentation from a healthy cast of musicians. Raymond Richards’ pedal guitar whine on “Maybe Tomorrow” shackles Way’s lyrics into a corner, yet by the song’s bridge, provides the necessary key. Way’s rumination is gospel opaque, fenced post to his remarkable expression and care. His highly charged touch and approach are an open hand, consistently inviting and warm.
“Life” maneuvers like Cat Stevens’ take on the Scottish “Morning Has Broken” giving Way a stick to draw his line in the sand. His dazed faith and questioning reach both existential and heavenly end. “Long Distance” is a true burner. Perfect for road trips and/or late night nomadic searching. The steady riffs, celestial keys, and sticky drums soar in flannel and neon lights as Way embraces his path. The haunting guitar lines and large choruses on “Don’t Fall Away” jaunt Way’s troubadour prophetic forms and gift the Phasers room to explore their sonic genes.
Similar to the seamlessness of “Don’t Surprise Me”, Side B’s “Gone” could be your new favorite song. Way & the Phasers push without being pushy and jam without being flashy. Ben Latimer’s saxophone is a brilliant addition as it cuts and smears against Michael Blake’s organ’s whirl and hum. “Hope” doesn’t spark fireworks in a lyrical sense, but is songsmithed to the stars. The steady pulse and lift of organ and guitar twang jimmy Way’s vocals into more than the sum of its parts. By the album’s end, grit and dark morning searching carry “Fire at the End of the Line” into the ether. Way & the Phasers lock in and give testament to something bigger, which segues luminously into “Seventeen”. Here, Way’s voice is met with a heightened sense of clarity and ease. It’s as if he’s performing in your hallway or on a lonely street corner, embedding deeper into his own ethos of understanding as the album ends. And just like on previous work touched by Way’s understated skills as singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Long Distance has the miles to give for years to come.