08 July 2008

The other Sam Phillips (the one with curves)

I probably shouldn't be allowed to review records by pop vixens with whom I've had dinner, like Sam Phillips. (True story that I'm sure she doesn't remember.) But since this blog is pretty much an authoritarian voice, bollocks to you naysayers. Besides, she didn't buy my dinner, so it's not like payola.

Her new disc is "Don't Do Anything," the title of which might've been mistaken as a directive from her publicists at Nonesuch. It slid out silently on June 3, and her Web page still has an Amazon pre-order button. D'oh.

Anyways, after a handful of aggressive pop music albums, Sam settled into an acoustic, almost modern parlor-music groove for her last two discs. But "DDA," her first self-produced effort, finds her breaking away from that sound without retreading her 1990s near-fame. Still low-key, the songs have an acoustic forefront, but deeper in the mix are grinding guitars, feedback, and odd, clackity percussion that make the album sound like a kissing cousin to her ex-husband and ex-producer T Bone Burnett's newest record, "Tooth Of Crime." The album opener punctuates meter with a tooth-rattling, resonating bass drum. Elsewhere there's just piano, gorgeous strings, and that slicing thin-yet-strong voice.

If 2004' "A Boot and a Shoe" was a career pinnacle — and it was — "Don't Do Anything" is not a step down. It's highly, highly recommended.

Sam on World Cafe: Hear her live in concert on July 23rd your local NPR World Cafe affiliate. (In Columbus, that's WTJB, 91.7, which airs the show 11 p.m.-1 a.m. the following Saturday. Or stream it at your leisure here.

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