Review: Grant-Lee Phillips Examines a Wide Sweep of Emotion on ‘All That You Can Dream’

Grant-Lee Phillips
All That You Can Dream
(Yep Roc)

Videos by American Songwriter

Credit Grant-Lee Phillips with truth in advertising. All That You Can Dream shares a cerebral sound that leaves the lingering impression it was born from a nocturnal environment, where the lights were dimmed and the surrounding silence left plenty of time for astute rumination.  

Like many other artists grounded by the pandemic, Phillips found himself at a loss when the pandemic put an end to touring and all other forms of activity. The world’s a sudden place, he sings on the opening track “A Sudden Place.” It turns on a dime/And the night falls so suddenly/Sometimes.  

Not surprisingly, Phillips appears overwhelmed by current circumstances—a cruel, cruel, cruel trick on the heart he says on “Cruel Trick,” the song that follows.  

By turns both anxious and emphatic, the new album finds Phillips surveying a wide sweep of emotion even while contemplating the confounding questions everyone’s facing at a time where there are mooted possibilities of finding simple solutions. Song after song laments the distance and divide that impinge on the struggle simply to survive.  

Hell is on earth, he declares on the plaintive title track. Yet the ache is even more obvious on “You Can’t Hide” with Phillips’ vocal taking on a decidedly desperate wail. Likewise, the somber and sobering “My Eyes Have Seen” provides a further glimpse of the tattered, troubled circumstance where any hint of optimism seems like an overwhelming leap of faith, a bridge too far. 

If All That You Can Dream seems uncommonly downcast, then perhaps future generations will embrace it for the warning it’s intended to be. Ever since Phillips first started making music as part of his namesake outfit Grant Lee Buffalo nearly three decades ago, he’s made it a point to share a sound that’s both poignant and powerful. Consequently, when he closes the album with the impassioned parting refrain of “All By Heart” he tips the scale towards tenderness and puts the dreams in perspective. 

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