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July 23, 2024

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Sam Phillips
Fan Dance (Nonesuch Records)

By: Scott Lewis

Formerly Leslie Phillips the contemporary Christian singer, creator of the wonderful Martinis and Bikinis from 1994, wife to one T Bone Burnett, Phillips pops around the corner after five years and shows us what she's been up to, and she's been up to good. It has to be difficult to have a sharp eye and mind and be obsessed with making pop music. Maybe that's why most of the best, such as Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Phillips are so reclusive and take so long between records...they need to get it right. With Fan Dance, a deliberate about face from the dancey Omnipop, Phillips hits the mark. The dozen tracks take the sturdy, familiar pop structures of classic Byrds and Beatles, then simultaneously strips them down and gussies them up while pushing them backwards and pulling them forward at the same time. Opener, "The Fan Dance," sounds as if delivered from atop a plodding horse on the plain, only, it's a horse from Westworld. "Five Colors" is pure Phillips pop: a tightly-toned acoustic guitar is strummed simply and sweetly to build a foggy pillow for Phillip's evocative, warm whispers which receive delicious accents from the impeccable Gillian Welch. It's a knockout song that gets it punch from doing so very well with so little. Gently stormy strings appear on a couple tracks adding mystery to Phillip's poetic ponderings. Phillip's knows who to turn a phrase, and when she chirps, "nostalgia isn't what it used to be," it's genius. "Incinerator" is a slice of warped country jazz that finds Phillip's voice blanketed in befitting smoke, she becomes a broken angel for the watery shimmer of "Below Surface" and just does a series of goofy-girl cooings for the brief "Is That Your Zebra?" Phillips' Fan Dance is a lovely listen and a lovingly crafted album. If we must have "adult" music, we should have more of it that sounds like this.
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