Phil Madeira Previews New Album ‘Open Heart’ With the New Orleans Jazz of ‘Remember Me’

Stephen L. Betts

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Musician, producer, and singer-songwriter Phil Madeira has been a respected member of Nashville’s music community for nearly 40 years, and since 2008 has led Emmylou Harris’ backing band the Red Dirt Boys. He has also played on numerous recordings and penned songs for a wide range of artists, including Alison Krauss, Amy Grant, Toby Keith, Mindy Smith, and the Civil Wars, who earned a Grammy in 2014 for the single “From This Valley.”

While Madeira’s solo recordings aren’t anywhere near as voluminous as his cumulative session work, they reveal an artist steeped in jazz, blues, and Americana who conveys complexities of the human condition with lyrics that are as deeply poetic as they are direct and conversational. “His lyrics celebrate life and love while acknowledging the heartbreak inherent in both,” says Harris. “They always make me smile.”

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On February 14th, Madeira will release Open Heart, the follow-up to his 2018 LP Providence, which pays homage to his Rhode Island birthplace and was recorded with the Red Dirt Boys. The title of the forthcoming LP, and its release day, suggest meditations on love and romance, and that’s certainly part of the story. But grief wends its way through the material as well.

“Long after I’d recorded Open Heart, it occurred to me that most of these songs were written in the denial phase of grieving the death of my partner of a decade,” says Madeira, in reference to Nashville writer-therapist Merrill Farnsworth, who succumbed to cancer in 2017.

Madeira addresses the loss head-on with “Remember Me,” a delectable blend of New Orleans-inspired jazz delivered with soulful, romantic affection and laced with Randy Newman-esque lyricism. “Remember me when you hear this song, maybe in your sleep after you’ve long gone,” Madeira sings. “You got inside my soul, I can’t say how/Your heartbeat echoes in my here and now.”

“When I wrote this, I was really saying goodbye to the relationship that helped birth these songs, but strangely saying hello to the curious warmth of my grief,” Madeira says. “There are so many facets in ‘Remember Me.’ I could be singing to my own heart in some ways, especially when I write, ‘When you have no voice, can’t sing or speak above the background noise.’ And that’s why we create; to give wings to voices that have been grounded.”

Recorded live with Madeira on vocals and piano, with Bryan Owings on drums and Chris Donohue on bass, “Remember Me,” also features vocals by Madeira’s frequent collaborator and friend Cindy Morgan. “Why she isn’t as famous as Dolly, I’ll never know,” he notes. “She has that same purity of soul and voice.”

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