Sam Phillips

The Disappearing Act 1987-1998

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Sam Phillips is one of the few artists to emerge from the CCM community and thoroughly reinvent herself as a secular artist, but not many songwriters working in any genre today have written about faith, personal morality, the search for truth, and the demands of the spirit with the intelligence, imagination, compassion, and wit that Phillips has brought to her best music. After cutting three albums of pop-oriented Christian music as Leslie Phillips, in 1987 she turned her back on the obvious moralizing her label expected of her and hired T Bone Burnett to produce her album The Turning, which proved to be her stepping stone to a more mature and contemplative style. With Burnett as her producer and collaborator (and, for a while, her husband), the newly re-christened Sam Phillips made a handful of the smartest and most challenging pop albums of the 1990s, balancing Beatles-influenced pop craftsmanship with lyrics that engaged both the mind and the soul. The Disappearing Act 1987-1998 is actually the second collection devoted to Phillips' recordings of this period; 1999's Zero Zero Zero found Phillips and Burnett offering a revisionist view of their music, with several of the 15 songs appearing in radically different mixes or new recordings, while one brief new song was added for good measure. The Disappearing Act, on the other hand, presents a more conventional overview of Phillips' music; beginning with two songs from The Turning, it offers a representative sampling from The Indescribable Wow, Cruel Inventions, Martinis & Bikinis, and Omnipop, all the songs appearing in their original form. If the selection isn't strikingly imaginative, The Disappearing Act at least draws most of the best and most interesting material from each album, and the songs flow together well in their new sequence. However, it's a shame that Phillips' excellent subsequent recordings for Nonesuch were ignored here, and the liner notes don't offer a very enlightening look at the music. Still, there are 23 fine songs on The Disappearing Act that make for a worthy introduction to Sam Phillips, and anyone who hasn't encountered her albums will find this to be a useful map to a deeply rewarding body of work.

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