It's hard opening a comment sometimes, especially when it's on someone you have discussed before. Perhaps you need something punchy, something to suck the reader(s) in? That opening line can be crucial, and I've probably just wasted it with my observation above.
Okay, I'll try again.
There is no reason I should like Shawn Phillips.
He represents a genre of music which I largely, at worst dislike, at best am ambivalent to.
Well, Phillips plays in the singer-songwriter style but I'm not talking about that because I like a lot of that. Where I start to nod off is where the singer-songwriter is also a virtuoso on their instrument and the music is designed to show off that as well as any emotion in the lyric and song.
Phillips is a guitar virtuoso.
Worse still he was recording mainly in the late 60s through to the late 70s … a decade when singer-songwriters, generally, took themselves very seriously.
At worst: the music is too hippie (or if it isn't, former hippie types like it), the lyrics can be a bit vague and overly spiritual (there is no Woody Guthrie directness here), because Phillips was an album artist there aren't any pop singles, his songs are rarely short, the music seems designed, at times, only as a display of his virtuosity, his songs lean to the precious and, on their face, lack humour, and, his fans would be total bores (well most fans are bores but Phillip's show would be populated by people who were into him in 1973 and were bores then).
Okay I have probably offended a few fans. But then why would they be reading this? They would already have this record.
So, to you non-fans or, people not in the know who may be reading this, what I have said may be true but, I like Shawn Phillips.
Well, Phillips plays in the electric folkie style but he is like the "pure form" of that style. He writes, plays, sings and, it is clear, he is gifted. Importantly he draws in other forms of music and incorporates them into his sound … sometimes singer-songwriter, sometimes eastern influences, sometimes country, psych, folk, classical, Hawaiian. He is never afraid to mix it up and he is never afraid to let the songs ramble with his emotions … so he becomes a sort of prog folk jazz singer-songwriter.
His songs may be long but lyrically they can be sparse, and normally his song lines are usually short. There is wordplay though there isn't excessive wordplay in his songs. His father who was a crime novelist, James Phillips who wrote under the name Phillip Atlee, may have had an influence:
“When I tried to read him a lyric once, I’m standing there all proud, he grabbed me by the front of the shirt and he jerked me about an inch away from his face, and he said, ‘Listen, punk. I’ve been writing for half a century, and I still can’t write a better line than ‘Jesus wept’.” http://www.goldminemag.com/article/follow-the-ever-changing-ballad-of-singer-songwriter-shawn-phillips
Though, I'm sure you wouldn't see mystical dancing pixies in any of his fathers novels and at times in Phillip's music you fully expect one to hop out.
Then there is his voice … Phillips has a four octave vocal range and he isn't scared to use it and uses it all to punctuate the emotion in his songs. It can be direct but normally likes to be otherworldly. He comes across as a hippie cosmic Roy Orbison.
Or at least Roy Orbison who has been hanging out with Donovan, Sandy Bull and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
But, what I like about this music is you put it on and it is disarming and quite relaxing. You can't dance to it, you can't sing along to it, you can't even hum to it. But like the jazz or classical you can put it on and it will stimulate the senses.
Now I'm sounding like a hippie but, hey, we all need some time out to sit and think and this music tells us stories and allows us to chill out.
This album came at Phillips most creative peak and was recorded in 1972 apart from three that date back to 1969 ("Landscape", "Chorale", "Parisien Plight II").
All sorts of legends including Steve Winwood, Leland Sklar, Sneaky Pete Kleinow assist him on this record though the Glen Campbell is Juicy Lucy (and The Misunderstood) steel guitarist Glen Ross Campbell.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Landscape – Nice, really nice and a little ethereal. An ethereal landscape?
- 'L' Ballade – so gentle and delicate it seems to barely exist.
- Hey Miss Lonely – another one cone in the familiar Phillips style but genuinely enjoyable
- Chorale – one of Phillips wordless songs, though not an instrumental. Have I used the word "ethereal" yet? A mix of Catholic chorale and Eastern traditions. It is meant to open the mind I suppose … all seven and a half minutes of it.
- Parisien Plight II – The song starts with mood and percussive sounds combined with sound effects (monkey chattering, exotic birds chirping) before going off into a funky beat. If Woodstock had of been held on the West Coast of Africa instead of in upstate New York you would have an idea of where this is coming from. Thirteen minutes of it. It is of its time but enjoyable
- We – a love song and a bouncy (well, as bouncy as Phillips gets) one.
- Anello (Where Are You) – a playful song about musicians in a Donovan style but taken away on a tangent. Very funny.
- I Took A Walk – a nice pointed song about America circa 1972.
I do like Phillips but I'm not sure where you would play him unless you were alone or with a lot of people who were stoned … I'm keeping it.
Hey Miss Lonely
Anello (Where Are You)
I Took A Walk
a verg good overview:
- The musicians:
Bass – Brian Odgers (S1, T1), Jack Conrad (S2, T2-44), Lee Sklar (S1, T3)
Drums – Ed Greene (S2, T2-4), Ed Morin (S1, T3)
French Horn – John Pigneguy (S1, T1), Martin Ford (S1, T1)
Guitar –Shawn Phillips, Caleb Quaye (S2, T1)
Harp – Skaila Kanga (S1, T2)
Organ – Steve Winwood (S2, T1)
Percussion – Reme Kabaka (S2, T1)
Piano – Joe Sample (S2, T2-4)
Piano, Cello – Paul Buckmaster (S1, T1)
Saxophone – Chris Mercer (S2, T1)
Steel Guitar – Glen Campbell (tracks: B1), Sneeky Pete Kleinow (S1, T3)
Trumpet – Henry Lowther S2, T1)
- Produced by Jonathan P. Weston (with the help of Robert Appere)