sam phillips:
 fan dance (nonesuch)

After a winding career in the music industry, Sam Phillips and her newest musical offering have seemingly found a nice home on the arty imprint, Nonesuch. Her stabilizing force, husband and producer extraordinaire, T Bone Burnett, is once again at the controls for the project.

Burnett, fresh off the success of the O’ Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack, seems inspired to use a similar rootsy, bare bones approach on Fan Dance. As O’ Brother featured down-to-earth bluegrass and old-timey music, Burnett uses various, but sparse instrumentation to frame Phillips’ earth-weary vocals. Percussion is at a minimum, with acoustic guitar, banjo, bass, harpsichord and cello providing the background.

The lyrical content is poetic, full of imagery that is not always easily understood – not the kind of thing that makes good commercial radio (hallelujah!). What it is, however, is an album that grows on you, each listen garnering additional appreciation for its artistic nature. It may be best described as abstract.

“Wasting My Time” is a beautiful song with a lone cello backing Phillips’ vocals. The deep and dark voice of the cello serves to echo and emphasize lines like:

My soul’s a worn out road
Where you’ve left a trail of reminders
The sky forgets turns black with pain

But the rain remembers your face
And the streets know your name

I’m wasting my time

Phillips does not limit her subject matter to darkness. “Love is Everywhere I Go” (with a guest appearance by Gillian Welch) is about the “light outside my door” and “burning inside my dreams.” With Fan Dance, perhaps Sam Phillips will light the way home for herself and other fans.

Greg Beadles

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