Indescribable wow

Sam Phillips

In 1996, after releasing three consecutive psychedelic pop classics, singer-songwriter Sam Phillips took a little-noticed tumble from grace with the album Omnipop. With her earlier discs, Phillips had movingly conveyed her spiritual doubts and romantic longing, but by the time of Omnipop Phillips had cast a derisive gaze on the spiritual decay around her.

Even if you agreed with her denunciations of corporate abuse, media manipulation, and the twisted pull of celebrity, for the first time in her career, she came off smug and superior. Her lustrous voice took on an affected tone, and the production by husband T-Bone Burnett too often settled for a cheap, plastic irony. Humility, always one of Phillips' greatest virtues, simply didn't translate to her new preoccupations.

Thankfully, after an extended period of creative re-evaluation, Phillips emerged in 2001 on a new label (Nonesuch) with a new album (Fan Dance) and a new sound: a kind of folky cabaret music built around her voice and acoustic guitar. Though the album shared little with Phillips' best earlier

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Sam Phillips
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albums (1988's The Indescribable Wow and 1994's Martinis and Bikinis), songs such as "How To Dream" and "Edge of the World" returned her to the sense of dark mystery that always elevated her above the adult-alternative pack.

This year, Phillips continued her creative comeback with A Boot And A Shoe, an album which strips her songs down even further to their essentials. Phillips has never received her commercial due (her greatest source of airplay in recent years has been on The Gilmore Girls), but few singer-songwriters of the last 20 years can match her catalog, and even fewer can deliver their songs so artfully in a sparse solo setting.

By Gilbert Garcia

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