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. As usual, Phillips takes her somewhat retro songs and spirals them through unusual, challenging arrangements that never take the easy way out. The melodies wind and curve around Phillips’ husky, emotional vocals. Just when you think you have the country stomp of “You Know I Won’t” figured out, she shifts into a minor key and adds backwards guitar that twists the track into something entirely different. A string quartet lends an “Eleanor Rigby” slant to “Going” and brings drama to the shimmering “See You in Dreams,” arguably the disc’s finest moment and one whose chorus locks into your brain on the first spin.
Phillips “Can’t See Straight” as she says in the closing 40’s styled pop gem. That’s a trait that has made her sound so playfully stimulating over the past quarter century and yielded one of the 90’s finest works in the enduring Martinis & Bikinis. Unlike other singer/songwriters, she consistently pushes her and her audience’s boundaries with music that’s as catchy as it is intriguing and idiosyncratic.