Sam Phillips, no relation to the legendary Sun Records producer, has had quite a chequered history so far in her career. Despite being virtually unknown this side of the Atlantic, A Boot And A Shoe is actually her seventh album. Her career began back in 1987 when she was involved in the much derided Christian Rock movement, an association that was to turn sour when she disassociated herself with the right wing politics of her record label.
Recent years have seen her move away from the more religious imagery in her work, and A Boot And A Shoe can be seen as a direct continuation of the work started in her last album, Fan Dance. In collaboration with her husband, T-Bone Burnett, she’s developed a stripped down, semi-acoustic sound that works beautifully on this album.
Her lack of mainstream success may well be down to her unwillingness to be categorised. Phillips is certainly not country and western, nor is she jazz or folk. Her music is also too spiky to be easily fitted into the Dido/Norah Jones model of easy listening. On this album, there are touches of kd lang and the song structures are reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright. Yet Phillips has a unique sound, which is well worth exploring.
A Boot And A Shoe is full of quiet, intimate songs whose intricate arrangements almost demand repeat listening. Opener How To Quit is a good example, Phillips only accompanied by an acoustic guitar and some unobtrusive drums, lending her languid vocals to a lovely jittery melody. Fans of the aforementioned kd lang’s Ingenue album will find much to delight in here.
The following track All Night is even better, a jazzy rhythm being quickly established before the chorus kicks in – “All night, all night, I’ve been looking for you all night” sings Phillips, and you can almost hear the yearning in her voice. That voice is utterly seductive throughout, proving that you don’t need vocal gymnastics to add character to a song. There are no Mariah Carey histrionics here, just Phillips deliciously lazy voice.
There are also elements of the torch song in tracks such as I Dreamed I Stopped Dreaming, and even some hints to a waltz in the excellent Reflecting Light. Perhaps the best song on the album though is Hole In My Pocket. The lyrics speak of spiritualism and faith, proving she hasn’t left her religious roots behind, but the melody brings to mind of the best of Crowded House.
There aren’t many bad tracks here (only Love Changes Everything is a bit anonymous), and it’s sad to think that A Boot And A Shoe will probably be one of the more overlooked albums of the year. Those who do stumble upon it are likely to be thoroughly charmed by it – Phillips is certainly one of the better kept secrets working today.