Phil Stacey, "Phil Stacey" (Lyric Street)
As a season seven finalist on "American Idol," Phil Stacey stood out for his upbeat personality and openly religious style. His debut as a country music singer follows suit: His songs are filled with breezy pop hooks and positive themes that sometimes cross into spiritual messages.
His faith came natural to him: the Kentucky-born singer's father, and both grandfathers, preached in Christian churches. Married since 1998, the sunny love songs from his self-titled debut seem similarly heartfelt.
Amid all the paeans to devotion " including the album's first hit, "If You Didn't Love Me" " there are some surprises. The opening "It's Who You Know," with its familiar religious message about how material success can't buy eternal life, has a psychedelic edge that would fit on a Cheap Trick album. Stacey also handles the funky "Find You" and the dreamy "You Are Mine" with an easy, earthy touch.
The album does stumble a bit toward the end. Stacey sounds unconvincing on the lost-love moaner, "Still Going Through," and can't find the center of the clumsily written closing spiritual, "Identity." By time he gets to those, however, he's already proven that he's continuing to take advantage of every good break he gets.
CHECK THIS OUT: While most of the album thrives on energy, Stacey shows the breadth of his potential by how persuasively he handles the stripped down "Be Good to Each Other," a beautifully simple commentary written by the album's producer, Wayne Kirkpatrick.