A Boot and a Shoe
The Music Box's #5 album of 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2004, Volume 11, #7
Written by John Metzger
Since joining the Nonesuch family, Sam Phillips has launched what is essentially her third career in the music business. Her first incarnation came when she recorded contemporary Christian pop songs under her given name Leslie Phillips. As she grew more intrigued with the complexities of life and began to view the world in varying shades of grey, however, she shed her single-sided spiritual subtexts, adopted her childhood nickname, and recast herself as a secular performer whose lush soundscapes frequently recalled those of The Beatles. Although she became the darling of rock critics around the globe, her audience remained relatively small, and on her 2001 outing Fan Dance, she once again altered course, this time embracing the restraint and subtlety of acoustic-oriented, folk-based arrangements.
Were it not for the fact that Phillips appeared abundantly comfortable in her new guise, one might have been tempted to view the transformation as a bit of premeditated bandwagon jumping, especially given the fact that her long-time producer and husband T-Bone Burnett was also the driving force behind the blockbuster O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Yet, her most recent outing A Boot and a Shoe further strengthens the notion that this is precisely where she belongs, and it should quell any lingering doubts about the seriousness of her bold, new direction, even as hints of her past continue to flicker within her work.
If anything, Phillips has perfected the quaint, creaking echoes of Fan Dance as well as the art-pop incursions that, over the course of the past decade, have bubbled on occasion through her songs. As a result, the bakerís dozen of impressionistic vignettes about love, loss, and desire through which she saunters seductively on A Boot and a Shoe are nothing short of entrancing. With a minimalist approach, the instrumentation frequently amounts to little more than an atmospheric whisper as her warm vocals pour over her sublime melodies with primal intimacy. Like some strange, whiskey-soaked conclave among Tom Waits, The Beatles, and Kurt Weill set amidst the cigarette haze of an after-hours nightclub, the album floats dreamily along at an economical 34-minute pace, offering equal parts strength and vulnerability within its fragile, humanistic refrains. Itís an honest, heartfelt, and quietly compelling endeavor ó the type of unassuming affair that slowly seeps beneath the surface of oneís skin as it waltzes between things carnal and spiritual ó but most importantly, Sam Phillips has never sounded better nor has she ever made her point quite so candidly.
A Boot and a Shoe is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box