With the help of a throng of backers, Bobby Choy, known more commonly by his alter ego Big Phony, got the finances to produce his first in-studio album. After over ten years in the industry, Bobby gifts us his first semi-self titled piece of work, and what a gift it is. The music is robust, the lyrics as simplistically skillful as always, and Bobby has reached new levels of musical brilliance now that he has the means to stretch himself and show us what he’s always been capable of.
There’s a vintage slant to these songs, as if plucked from the bubblegum of ’60s pop groups (“Back to Seoul”) or the emotional ire of a troubadour. Song “Ready or Not” smacks so very much of Bob Dylan I had to listen to it twice in my first sitting. Even as experienced as Bobby is in his music creation, the level of maturity is notable. More than just a fuller roundedness to his sound, there’s a willingness to stretch beyond his comfort zone, perhaps, and to experiment with sounds and textures.
A track like “This Might Be Love” is really a masterpiece. He takes the effervescence of Yellow Submarine-era Beatles and mixes it with a solidly unique vocal color. There are several movements in the piece: first a steady marching beat to express the beginning trudgery of falling in love, questioning the validity of the emotion, how it feels on your skin. As he declares, “I always get stuck on the part where you walk out,” then ponders if this really could be love, the song shifts and the second movement expresses the jubilance of a first kiss, first embrace, first confirmation that this indeed is the magic of love and all its twists, turns, and dances. As he settles into his love affair, the music shifts again into something smoother, something with more air and softer angles, though greater depth. The music settles into a beautiful piano-based construction as self-doubt creeps back up into his love scenario. He again wonders, “Maybe it’s not, but maybe it’s true.”
Bobby has become very adept at storytelling, even if the story is a short one. However, with this new album he’s managed to weave story into the very composition itself, as if he’s waited all his life to be able to add layer and dimension to his sound. He’s already proven himself quite the beautiful guitarist and lyricist, making each note he sings simmer with emotional vulnerability. What he does with Big Phony is cushion that natural ability to project emotion with some truly marvelous composition. It’s simple in construction, nothing over-the-top, but the ability to make each note played work in direct concert with his lyrics and the easy execution of his vocal gives each song so much fullness.
That being said, there really is nothing quite like his voice nestled next to just a guitar. There’s such a purity in the relationship between a man and his guitar, with very little else to fill the space. “On the Count of Three,” really is a nostalgic piece, as if plucked from the soul of an old crooner. The bends and dips of the song take the listener to another dimension where the characters in his story interact right before her eyes. On the other hand, “Pullout Couch” is less a tapestry and more a black-and-white photograph of a scene between old lovers and friends. Each scene is captured at the perfect angle, Bobby himself standing in the background, medium focus. Both songs make exceptional use of the strain of classical strings, cellist Sean Alapay adding an extra ache to the songs, bringing them to startling and emotional life.
It’s clear Bobby hasn’t lost his ability to weave story and anecdote into all his songs. There’s so much poetry in the simplest lyrics, such gritty realism in the most esoteric prose. “Shoot the Shit” and “Be Mine, Baby” are personal, beautiful, and just so simple they leave so much room for listeners to nestle right next to them and actually take part in the conversation he’s having with us.
The biggest thing I take away from this piece of work is happiness. There’s an audible joy in the songs, something lighter than some of his past work. It’s no less emotionally open, certainly no less honest. But given the room to really express himself, Bobby has opted to play around, be giddy in this space. It would be unfair to say his work prior to this moment was all sullen melancholy. However, there’s a smile in almost every note on Big Phony, sunshine blasting away any shadows lingering in the tracks.
Big Phony is really a blessing. As with 2014’s Bobby, putting his name on it means there’s so much of himself in this piece. He’s showing us the other aspect of himself, giving us wider access to who he is as a musician and a man. We should all be honored he trusted his listeners to accept this, his best work, and nurture it, give it the life it deserves to flourish. Thank you, Bobby, for creating a truly special piece of music.
This is a pre-release review.
- Back to Seoul
- Hanging On a Thread
- Ready Or Not
- This Might Be Love
- On the Count of Three
- I Need to be Alone
- Pullout Couch
- Shoot the Shit
- Be Mine, Baby
- Ready Or Not (Enik Lin Remix)