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Sam Phillips


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Alternative pop/rock

Status:

Most recent release, Human Contact Is Never Easy (sampler, 2016)

See also:

Sam Phillips' site

Sam Phillips bandcamp page

Wikipedia's entry on Sam Phillips

Comparisons:

Michael Penn

Covers/own material:

Original

General comments:

Sam Phillips is certainly a goddess in her own right. (Michael C. Berch)

Well, now. Let's get things straight. Sam Phillips first of all has a number of Christian albums under her real name, Leslie Phillips. She has said that she'd rather forget those albums. Her last album under her real name, The Turning, on A&M was her first venture into pop and is wonderful. It also has never been reissued on CD. Her latest album, Cruel Inventions is also wonderful. It is a tad less produced than The Indescribable Wow and comes off more as a cross between that album and The Turning. I recommend them all. (pmcohen@voicenet.com)

Excellent songwriting, especially on Cruel Inventions. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Yeah, she writes great songs. But that voice drives me nuts. (valerie@smoe.org)

i quite liked earlier sam phillips stuff, though i find martinis and bikinis the best out of the two i have (The Indescribable Wow and martinis and bikinis). don't know why i haven't picked up that other one.
     i would say they are not that far off from each other in sound, though The Indescribable Wow sounds a little more pop and polished. i prefer the grittier sounding martinis and bikinis sound. The Indescribable Wow, by the way, sounds a lot like Leslie Phillips' The Turning.
     I have yet to hear any of the pre-The Turning albums but i do like The Turning. i was surprised to hear it labeled as contemporary Christian music, as i am so used that label stuck on horrible overproduced similar sounding stuff (á la michael w smith/amy grant). for some reason all that music sounds exactly the same to me (and i have heard a lot of it, as i used to listen to it way back when...). there are some strains of that sound in The Turning (but then it might just be a product of the times, as that '80s ricki-ticki drum machine sound makes anything sound slightly cheesy) but not as much as you would think. there is still sam's vocals layered on top of each other and some nice harmonies. (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Comments about live performance:

I just saw Sam Phillips for the first time tonight. Oh my word. I've always enjoyed Martinis and Bikinis as the Beatles-esque pop record that it is, and found Omnipop to be wacky and wicked, and of course I've been plumb happy to hear her every week la-la-la-ing on the Gilmore Girls, but I'd never really made myself go see her the various times she's played around L.A.
     Now I'm kicking myself for not checking her live set out earlier, and making plans to be wherever she is from now on. Whew. She has such a wonderful stage presence, very charming and funny, and when she opens her eyes wide, she looks like Emily Watson. But that's beside the point. The performance, the arrangement, the songs, the lyrics, her VOICE. What a wonderful voice, and there's so much more emotion and subtlety and careworn-ness in it live than on her records, I think.
     Accompanying her tonight were Jay Bellerose (I'd been wondering where he'd disappeared to) on drums/percussion; Patrick Warren (longtime co-conspirator of Michael Penn) on pump organ and piano; and The Section, a string quartet who plays every so often at Largo. The arrangements they provided around Sam were marvelous and quite tasty.
     I was especially happy to hear Sam pull out a short, lonely, stripped down version of "Zero Zero Zero" with just her on guitar and singing the horn parts, as well as "Animals on Wheels" featuring the lone accompaniment of a piano played on a dictaphone (shaken at specific moments to get a vibrato and tremolo effect out of the jiggled playback transport).
     Ah me. If only all concerts were this enjoyable. (3/04, paul2k@aol.com)

Sam Phillips was next...with an interesting band. Terry from X was on lead guitar, a drummer who was ok but looked like he was on the wrong stage, the Bass player (Jerry Sp something), who has played with both Elvis Costello and Presley, the Doors and quite a few others, and was extremely good. The rhythm guitar is some guy name T-Bone, and thus quite an impressive 'band off the cuff'. She had remarkably little stage presence, but played quite well, and was very well received. (p00421@psilink.com)

Recommended first album:

Cruel Inventions (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

Most people would probably to do well to start with Martinis and Bikinis. For those who like a more stripped-down sound, her latest albums, Fan Dance or A Boot and a Shoe would be a better starting point. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Recordings:


The Indescribable Wow

Release info:

1988—Virgin Records—86056; re-released in 2001 on DVD Audio—Classics Records FR—1009

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips—vocals

Guest artists:

Alejandro "Alex" Acuña—drums, percussion
Mickey Curry—drums
Ralph Forbes—drums, drum machine
Stanley Jordan—drums
Steve Jordan—drums
David Miner—bass, harmonium, harpsichord
Buell Niedlinger—bass, cello, double bass
Jerry Scheff—bass
T-Bone Burnett—guitar, mandocello, marxophone, arrangements
Mike Utley—organ
Darrell Leonard—trumpet
Steven "Steven J." Jordan—drums
Van Dyke Parks—arrangements

Produced by:

T-Bone Burnett

Comments:

I loved "What Do I Do?" when the album first came out, but dismissed the rest of the album. I was wrong. The entire album is excellent. (vickie@enteract.com)

Cruel Inventions

Release info:

1991—Virgin Records—86213; re-released in 2001 on DVD Audio—Classics Records FR—1013

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips—vocals, chamberlain, guitar, organ

Guest artists:

Alejandro "Alex" Acuña—drums, percussion
Mickey Curry—drums, percussion
Michael Blair—drums, percussion
Ralph Forbes—drums, percussion
Sandy Bull-drums, oud
David Kemper—drums, percussion
Scott Musick—drums, percussion
Van Dyke Parks—drums, strings, chamberlain, arrangements
Jerry Scheff—bass
Larry Corbett—cello
T-Bone Burnett—chamberlain, guitar, organ
Elvis Costello—guitar
Marc Ribot—guitar
Jim Goodwin—piano
John Acevedo—viola
Joel Derouin—violin
Sid Page—violin

Produced by:

T-Bone Burnett

Comments:

While The Indescribable Wow was a good solid debut effort, the hooks in Cruel Inventions are inescapable. You will listen to this over and over again. Her voice is a little, but that just adds to the sound. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

I have The Indescribable Wow and Cruel Inventions. I'm not fond of The Indescribable Wow and never listen to it, so I don't even remember what I dislike. I play Cruel Inventions all the time though. I particularly like the songs "Cruel Inventions" and "Go Down". It's less overtly Beatlesque than Martinis and Bikinis, though her sound is pretty consistent across both albums. Basically if you like Martinis and Bikinis you will like Cruel Inventions. (dbucak@netaxs.com)


Martinis & Bikinis

Release info:

1994—Virgin Records—7243 8 39438 2 1

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips

Guest artists:

T Bone Burnett
Mickey Curry
David Mansfield
Colin Moulding (XTC)
Jerry Scheff
Michael Blair
Peter Buck (R.E.M.)
Marvin Etzioni
Don Heffington
Steven Hodges
Van Dyke Parks
Marc Ribot
Larry Taylor
Benmont Tench
Sid Page Strings (Sid Page, Joel Derouin, Robert Becker, Larry Corbett)—strings on "Baby I Can't Please You"

Produced by:

T Bone Burnett, Colin Moulding

Comments:

A definite must-have. ...a very driving, strong album, and one from which i have big problems picking any one, two, three, etc. songs for sampler tapes, since the whole thing is simply excellent. one of the albums i listened to most at the beginning of this year, though i only pull it out every so often now. (damon)

This album is her strongest yet. (mjmjminla@yahoo.com)

I have been enjoying Martinis & Bikinis for a few weeks now, and I must say it is excellent. The music is somewhat psychedelicized, reminiscent of The Beatles' Rubber Soul and Revolver at times. The songs are quite good, the music retro without being stale, and the lyrics are very good as well. The title track is a laugh and a half. I also like this phrase from "Fighting With Fire": "I'm not above him but I want to go / Down below the surface where he lives / Fighting with fire", full of metaphoric substance, she could be talking about the devil or about the shallow businessman. "Same Changes" is a solid pop song, co-written with T Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips' husband. "I Need Love" is a song about faith (not religion), and "Wheel of the Broken Voice" was stuck in my head all last week.
     Colin Moulding of XTC plays bass on much of this album, sharing the duties with Jerry Scheff. The album was produced by T Bone and I wouldn't complain if he were offered the chance to produce an XTC album.
     Martinis & Bikinis is definitely at the top of my personal playlist at the moment. Excellent vocals, interesting music, mistakes, weird noises, spontaneity, good lyrics, varied production. Overall, the most captivating release of 1994. In my opinion this emphasis [on the instruments] is an asset. I listen to music first and lyrics second. So I really appreciate the emphasis on the instruments and the music. The vocals on this record do not overpower the instruments, and thus they function as just another instrument. I prefer when the vocals are considered part of the music rather than the solo instrument, drowning out the backing parts. And when I like the music, I am more inclined to listen to the lyrics, and in the case of this album I happen to like the lyrics, too. (relph@presto.ig.com)

I like Sam's Martinis and Bikinis quite a bit. It is similar to Cruel Inventions, I think. It didn't grab me the first time through, but subsequent listens proved its worth. It's great! (colford@chlotrudis.org, )

Oooh...very nice album. If anyone ever wondered what John Lennon would have sounded like if he had been a woman, this answers the question. And very nicely, I might add. (JavaHo@aol.com)

This album grabbed me faster than anything I've bought in the past 10 years. Loved every second of it immediately. She is something! I've said it before and I'll say it again: The best Beatles album since the breakup! (ABershaw@aol.com)

Her strongest album. Period. Full of everything that makes her stuff great: great songs, great production from T-Bone Burnett, great sidemen. (pmcohen@voicenet.com)

Her voice has the same kind of truncated feeling to it as in Jen Hess and her music is very reminiscent of certain periods of The Beatles. I think I like it. (zzkwhite@ktwu.wuacc.edu)


Omnipop (It's Only A Flesh Wound Lambchop)

Release info:

1996—Virgin Records—41860

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips—guitar, chamberlain, vocals

Guest artists:

Suzette Moriarty—French horn
Ira Nepus—trombone
Jerry Scheff—bass
Todd Vincent—guitar
Patrick Warren—chamberlain
Smokey Hormel—baritone
Josh la Belle—dumbek, drums
Armando Compean—bass
Steve Williams—trombone
Jim Keltner—percussion, drums
Matt Betton—marima
Jon Brion—bass, chamberlain, noise, drums, guitar, piano
T-Bone Burnett—loops
Matt Chamberlain—percussion, drums, loops
Paulinho Da Costa—bongos
Brad Hauser—bass, bass clarinet
Don Heffington—drums, maracas, tambourine
Ken Kugler—trombone, bass trombone
Greg Leisz—trumpet, pedal steel guitar
Darrell Leonard—trumpet
Les Lovitt—trumpet, flugelhorn
Marc Ribot—guitar

Produced by:

T-Bone Burnett

Comments:

This one isn't quite as brilliant as Martinis and Bikinis or Cruel Inventions. Sam has also changed her sound a bit. But the songs still have the skewed pop sensibility and slightly psychedelic sound that always make her albums worthwhile. (stuart@sph.emory.edu)

Omnipop (It's Only A Flesh Wound Lambchop) did very poorly commercially, though i thought it was a great album (not as good as Martinis and Bikinis, but still damn tasty). (iflin@speakeasy.net)

Melodic rock, sometimes experimental; knowingly clever lyrics; voice maybe too [nasal?] for some.
     At first many tracks seemed misfires to me, instrumentation and lyrics that were more interesting than enjoyable. Further listening lifted song by song out of "odd but cute" into the realm of toe-tapping, singing-along, or sitting there with an appreciative expression, and now I find it difficult to see why this album is seen as a failure by some fans.
     "Entertainmen" rocks and the lyrics cut. The circus-tinged "Animals on wheels" is a giddy spinning carousel of a song, though sometimes it sticks in my head longer than I want it there. The perky brassy "Zero zero zero!" is too cute, like "Animals", but "here here" for the praise for such an important number (or non-number).
     Then you move into more emotional territory as the horns in "Help yourself" flop around helplessly like the fatalistic singer, who sings "didn't see the trap, fell in deep / you're going to help yourself to me." The music pulses as though trapped in sleep but with a memory that it should be trying to wake.
     The later song "Where are you taking me" is similar lyrically and musically in its resigned entrapment and the slide down. "Help yourself" leads wonderfully into "Your hands", the album's centre, which drags the listener down "as the earth gives out under, my soul feels like a stone", and then she falls. The guitars rise and fall like waves with a dangerous pull, breaking against the drums, and sometimes the sound textures call out like dolphins. She sings "I wrap this longing around me, and wait for some sign of you, my balance is gone", and I imagine she has gone limp and lets the music toss her about.
     Then back to cute with catchy pop "Power world", and slip of a song, crunchy guitar "Compulsive gambler." "Faster Pussycat to the library!" only works when you know the title, and yes it is cuter than musical. The dark "Slapstick heart" breaks the lyrical fall of the album, when after "lost my balance, fell like rain", she lands in an ocean of tears and "that s when I knew I couldn't swim at all."
     Odd that I first thought this album was about infatuation with technology (the photos) and that the clever controlled lyrics represented her strength. Omnipop has as much helplessness as cuteness. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Zero Zero Zero: The Best of Sam Phillips

Release info:

1999—Virgin Records—46939

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips

Guest artists:

David Mansfield—guitar
Colin Moulding (XTC)—bass
Patrick Warren—chamberlain
Buell Niedlinger—bass
Jim Keltner—drums
Sid Page—violin
Larry Taylor—bass
John Acevedo—viola
Alejandro "Alex" Acuña—percussion
Benmont Tench—organ
Michael Blair—percussion
Jon Brion—bass, guitar, chamberlain
Peter Buck (R.E.M.)—dulcimer, guitar
T-Bone Burnett—guitar, chamberlain
Larry Corbett—cello
Mickey Curry—drums
Joel Derouin—violin
Ralph Forbes—loops
Don Heffington—percussion
Stephen Hodges—drums
Elvis Costello—guitar
Van Dyke Parks—accordion
Marc Ribot—guitar

Produced by:

T-Bone Burnett

Comments:

Her compilation Zero Zero Zero could be considered a "greatest hits" album, if not for the fact that she hasn't really had any "hits". (I read or heard that the album title was something of a joke based on this fact.) I like Zero Zero Zero quite a bit, particularly the remix of "Flame". (Greg.Jumper@Sun.COM)

Fan Dance

Release info:

2001—Nonesuch Records—79625-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips—vocal, guitar, piano

Guest artists:

Jim Keltner—hand drum, banjo, cymbal
Carla Azar—low hand drum, sounds, traps, maracas, bass drum, snare drum
T Bone Burnett—bass, piano, tambourine, guitar
Marc Ribot—Quattro banjo guitar, guitar, banjo, Optigan
Gillian Welch—vocal, bass
Martin Tillman—cello
Van Dyke Parks—harpsichord
Rick Will—bass

Produced by:

T Bone Burnett

Comments:

I enjoy the disc quite a bit. It is definitely more subdued and acoustic than any of her previous work. It actually has more in common with hubby/producer T Bone's last, "The Criminal Under My Own Hat". Often, there is just percussion, bass and acoustic guitar (a little cello & banjo thrown in for good measure). The songs took a little while to sink in, which for me is often a good sign (instant accessibility often results in rapid boredom). While I miss the sound she crafted with The Indescribable Wow and Cruel Inventions (or even The Turning), it's a good direction for her. I find it a much more pleasurable listen than Omnipop... (rjzeiser@swbell.net)

I like the first four tunes but then she kind of loses me. oh well. (cdavis@tir.com)


A Boot and a Shoe (2004)

Release info:

2004—Nonesuch Records—79807-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sam Phillips—vocals, guitar, rhythm guitar

Guest artists:

Carla Azar—drums
Jay Belarose—drums
David Piltch—bass
T Bone Burnett—bass
Jim Keltner—drums
Marc Ribot—guitar, electric guitar
Patrick Warren—piano, pump organ, string arrangements
Eric Gorfain (The Section Quartet)—violin
Daphne Chen (The Section Quartet)—violin
Richard Dodd (The Section Quartet)—cello
Leah Katz (The Section Quartet)—viola
Chris Bruce—electric guitar
Mike Elizondo—bass
Chris Bruce—guitar

Produced by:

T Bone Burnett

Comments:

Very similar to her last album, Fan Dance, in the consistency & simplicity of the instrumentation. In this case there's Sam's scratchy acoustic guitar, carnivalesque percussion, some other guitars and strings—more than Fan Dance, but little enough variation, so that if you don't like one song, you won't like any, and if you do like one, you might feel 13 is too many.
     My fav songs are 'love changes everything' (sad & touching & v. much like Jane Siberry's song of that name) and 'red silk five' (reminds me of a classy spy movie). I'll listen to this album many times and enjoy it, but the messy clever do-these-songs-really-belong-on-the-same-album Omnipop (It's Only A Flesh Wound Lambchop) is more my style. That one had loud guitars and perfect pop and sketchy sadness and was a mess but I prefer that to this sophisticated pared-back approach, like Gillian Welch, Jolie Holland, etc., but a different genre. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

I can not get enough of Sam Phillips' A Boot and a Shoe. One of the top 10 albums of 2004. (Paul2k@aol.com)


Further info:

Sam Phillips appears in the film Die Hard with a Vengeance.


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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