An album full of intrigue and dark-hued beauty
Michael Quinn 2008-08-29
Smokey, sassy, sultry, smart-as-a-whip and sat in a bath fully clothed, Sam Phillips adds producing to her many-feathered bow for her eighth album (or her 13th, if you factor in her 1980s Christian-accented incarnation as Leslie Phillips).
Aiming for ''something lighter'', Don't Do Anything is packed to the gills with topsy-turvy lyrics that purport to say something but are intended to mean something altogether different. Cleverly, Philips shrouds everything in an almost palpably incorporeal atmosphere (yes, that's how topsy-turvy it really is!) conjured out of distorted, twanging guitars, thumping to the point of booming percussion, viscous piano lines and breathy, broken, vulnerable vocals that bypass your ears and inject themselves straight into your bloodstream. The result is an album to get deliriously lost within.
The title track is a sublime exercise in playful sophistry, delivered with a beautifully understated lightness of touch that is deliciously corroborated by the melodious but coruscating conviction of Little Plastic Life and the pulsing, pouting early Elvis Costello-like riot of My Career In Chemistry. The fevervish, scrunched-up guitar, brittle banjo and stuttering staccato percussion on Shake it Down offers a caustic, clattering Tom Waits backdrop to perhaps the cleanest, most direct vocals on the album.
Austerely covered by Robert Plant and Allison Krauss on last year's Raising Sand collaboration, Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, in its creator's hands, comes across more appropriately as a quixotic circus sideshow curio.
Another Song is a perfect Phillips concoction – any number of styles (and a myriad number of emotions) corralled together in one compact, bleakly beautiful miniature – and Watching Out Of This World, with its splashy guitar pulse and lightly evaporating vocals provides a vivid punctuation mark to bring an album full of intrigue and dark-hued beauty to a memorable close.