Fan Dance – Sam Phillips

Slip Case - front

Released on Nonesuch in 2001, this was to prove to be the first in an ongoing series of recordings by Ms Phillips embracing a delightful audio-verite approach to production with a warm organic magic dust sprinkled over everything. Hitherto she had been the subject of glossier approaches to recording on albums such as Martinis and Bikinis, where she first attracted my attention by using XTC’s Colin Moulding as bass player. I never got round to hearing the album at the time, not through lack of trying, but her stuff just never seemed to be in the shops I frequented. While trawling through our local shop much later on however, my eye was caught by the slip case image for Fan Dance. A noir-ish shot of a woman’s hand brushing the strings of an old f-hole acoustic. As with The League of Gentlemen album, I liked it enough to impulse buy. What a good job I did. This is an absolute classic, brilliant pop songwriting, sinuous ingenious melodies performed in a sultry husky voice, with a backing of idiosyncratic instrumentation and quirky arrangements. If you’ve heard Raising Sand, the Alison Krauss – Robert Plant collaboration, you’ve heard Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, one of Sam’s songs, and pretty typical of her approach to writing. Her then husband, T-Bone Burnette, is responsible for the excellent production here, and presumably for getting Sister Rosetta onto Sand. Good for him as the boy done good in both cases.
A quick look at the notes for each track shows the minimalism of the approach, often its Sam herself with just one other performer, often demon versatile Marc Ribot on guitar, banjo or some-such, T-Bone, Gillian Welch, or even the legend Van-Dyke Parks.
The songs twist and turn with a melodic and lyrical wit, with hints of Chinoiserie (Fan Dance), an underwater vibe (Below Surface), or string quartet (Wasting My Time). A couple of songs, Edge of the World and Love is Everywhere I Go would have even Lord Macca Thumbs-aloft wishing he still had half the skill in writing such gems. The album concludes with the tremoloed twang of Say What You Mean, which could have fallen from the soundtrack of A Chandler movie, a truly sultry piece of work!
If you would like to see what else Ms Phillips has been up to, check out her website, where she has an interesting approach to distributing and selling her work to fans. Hats off to a novel and innovative approach.

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