Grant-Lee Phillips has a voice glorious and strong enough that he could sing nearly anything and his loyal fan base would be happy to hear it. But after moving from California to Tennessee in 2013, Phillips sounds like a happier and invigorated man on 2016's The Narrows, which boasts a lively and engaging spark. On the surface, The Narrows doesn't feel all that much peppier than most of Phillips' solo catalog, but the pace of this music is less lazy than contemplative. Backed by Jerry Roe on drums and Lex Price on bass, most of these tunes settle into an easy but determined groove, but when Phillips turns up the gas on "Loaded Gun" and "Tennessee Rain," the effect is powerful and liberating. There's a subtle passion in Phillips' performances here that makes all the difference, a pale fire that brings these tunes to life. Though he's moved south, Phillips writes a lot about his memories of life in the West on The Narrows. He calls up evocative images of family, childhood, and the extended landscapes of California, and the mood is more artful than nostalgic, finding beauty in both good and harrowing experiences. Perhaps Phillips had to leave California behind to see it clearly, but The Narrows is a striking chronicle of life in the Golden State. As a piece of record making, The Narrows is simple but deeply satisfying, as good as anything Phillips has made since going solo. Hearing him sing is always a richly enjoyable experience, but The Narrows delivers as both form and content. It's recommended to anyone who has ever found pleasure in his work.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming