Release Date: Aug 13, 2013
Record label: Littlebox Recordings
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Just because this is Sam Phillips’ first physical disc of material since 2008, doesn’t mean she hasn’t been working hard at her craft. She recorded five EPs and a full length album, only available digitally on her Long Play subscription project, had a song covered on Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Grammy winning Raising Sand release and has been working on music for an upcoming children’s series for network television. Somewhere she found time to lay down these 10 tracks with stellar backing musicians in an old bungalow in her LA hometown.
Sam Phillips spent a little more than a year creating approximately three albums worth of material. The leap she took to pull off such a brazen and risky endeavor paid off big time—if you were a subscriber to Phillips’ Long Play music subscription service then you were treated to a brilliant inside glimpse of one of the best songwriters of our time creating music and art right before your very ears and eyes. Everything felt like it was in real time: you could almost see Phillips’ head reeling with creative juices as she navigated through old and new tunes to give her fans an experience of a lifetime.
By the time of her 2013 album Push Any Button, Sam Phillips had been making marvelously idiosyncratic pop music for so long, it might have been easy to take her for granted or cast her aside in favor of someone newer and seemingly fresher. A quick listen to the record shows just what a big mistake either of those actions would be. With the help of a few musicians, she’s made another intimate gem that’s filled with her trademark heartfelt, heartsick, and brainy lyrics; not to mention the kind of sneaky melodies that one might find stuck deep in their memory after one spin through the album.
Casually strummed, but carefully put together, sparse and scrubby but ornamented with brass and strings, stylishly worded but fundamentally straightforward, the songs on Sam Phillips’ 10th full-length are balanced on the knife edge of art and confession. You get the sense, on one level, of feeling scrubbed bare with a washcloth, ruddy and honest and unadorned. But then you notice the skill with which these feelings are presented, the closeness of the fit between words and rhythms, the way that melodies twist into unexpected but ultimately inevitable patterns, the manner in which simple arrangements erupt into brash elaborations.
Sam Phillips is the ultimate Mensa Society/singer-songwriter cult figure. She jumps around genres like a Bowie-esque chameleon, but this new effort is a staunch improvement from some of her musical wanderlust. She says this “represents the dream of the record I would have made had I been recording in the ’60s and early ’70s.” Her vision is realized.