Sam Phillips

Don't Do Anything

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T Bone Burnett played a major role in Sam Phillips' recording career before she even became Sam Phillips. Their collaboration began when Burnett produced 1987's The Turning, Phillips' last album as Leslie Phillips, the given name she used when she signed with the Christian-oriented Myrrh Records label. After that album, Phillips fled the constraints of the CCM format and, using her nickname Sam Phillips, began recording a series of gorgeous pop albums with Burnett at the controls that posed moral and ethical riddles with subtle passion, wisdom, and no small degree of wit. However, with the release of Phillips' 2004 album, A Boot and a Shoe, came the word that Phillips and Burnett, who were husband and wife as well as musical collaborators, had divorced, and her seventh album as Sam Phillips, Don't Do Anything, finds her producing her own sessions for the first time. Those expecting a major shift in creative direction will not really find what they're looking for; while the sound of the record is not as spare as Fan Dance or A Boot and a Shoe, the arrangements are concise and the tuneful melodies are expressed with a thoughtful elegance (the Section Quartet add superb string arrangements to several tracks), as the thick electric guitar textures that rumble below the surface add a slightly disquieting element that's different than the clean psych-pop surfaces of Martinis & Bikinis or the acoustic textures of her more recent work (but don't fret, "Little Plastic Life" has a hook as lovely as anything she's ever committed to tape). Some fans will expect Don't Do Anything to be Phillips' "breakup album," and lyrics like "I thought if he understood he wouldn't treat me this way" (from "No Explanations"), "Did you ever love me?" (from "Another Song"), and "I'd rather be alone than with someone who doesn't know" (from "My Career in Chemistry") certainly suggest that the notions of betrayal and broken hearts were in her thoughts. But nearly all the songs on Don't Do Anything work on two levels, as they express misgivings of affairs of the heart as well as the uncertain navigation of the soul, and the finale, "Watching Out of This World," clearly addresses a disappointment far deeper than any heartache. With Don't Do Anything, Sam Phillips has struck out on her own with a work that's among her most challenging to date, and it reveals that she's held on to the gifts that have made her one of the most rewarding singer/songwriters of her generation while adding fresh accents as she follows her muse with commendable courage and clarity.

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