Phillips’ vocal style is of the quietly devastated Erin Moran/Aimee Mann school, backlit by Bacharach-and-Wilson-ish arrangements on ‘Another Song’, ‘Little Plastic Life’ and ‘Flower Up’.
Californian Sam Phillips came a long way to find herself. A staple of Christian pop radio in the 1980s, she did an abrupt U-turn, switched to the more secular environs of Virgin, played a mute terrorist in Die Hard With A Vengeance, collaborated with Elvis Costello and then-husband T-Bone Burnett, and released a stream of highly regarded alternative roots records. Don’t Do Anything, her eighth solo offering since ditching the religion, is also her first self-produced album.
Phillips’ vocal style is of the quietly devastated Erin Moran/Aimee Mann school, backlit by Bacharach-and-Wilson-ish arrangements on ‘Another Song’, ‘Little Plastic Life’ and ‘Flower Up’. But such lush sounds are just as often counterpointed by hambone rhythms and distorted PJ guitar. ‘No Explanations’, ‘Shake It Down’ and ‘Under The Night’ sound primitive, but never unsophisticated. ‘Can’t Come Down’ gets along on a deceptively ramshackle-sounding busker’s beat, but the melody is halfway between ragtime and Marc Bolan.
The centrepiece is ‘Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us’, covered last year by Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, a whimsical but haunting little gem that co-opts the flying nun’s surreal folk bulletin “Strange things are happening every day” and emblazons it with jazz devil fiddle. Plus, the title tune is as gorgeous a love song as you’ll hear this autumn: no guile, no trickery, all heart.
Don’t Do Anything is neither fish nor flesh, but a whole new breed of old, weird and American.
Key Track: ‘Don’t Do Anything’