Songwriter Showcase: Grant-Lee Phillips
By Gary Schwind
Virginia Creeper, the latest album
from the former lead singer of Grant Lee Buffalo, is a solid folk album.
The mood of the album is something of a cross between Tom Waits’ Closing
Time and Alejandro Esocvedo’s Bourbonitis Blues. I say
that because there is generous use of both piano like you get from Tom
Waits and strings that you get from Alejandro Escovedo.
Before I lead you on the wrong path, allow
me to say that vocally, Phillips is nothing like Waits or Escovedo.
More than anyone, Phillips sounds like Cat Stevens. The songs are
well-crafted, pensive, and, for lack of a better term, artsy. There
is a lot going on in these songs, weaving guitar, accordion, banjo, piano
and a string quartet among other things. It seems a bit unfair to
say that these songs are merely written. They are arranged.
While this album stands solidly in the
folk category, there is a definite bluegrass influence that can be heard
immediately. The banjo on “Mona Lisa” gives the song a bluegrass
feel. “Josephine of the Swamps” is another song with bluegrass influences
and sounds a lot like Steve Earle’s song “The Truth,” from the album Jerusalem.
The highlight of this album is the last
song “Hickory Wind,” written by Gram Parsons. It is a beautiful song.
It’s what I would call a face-licker. Now, the term face-licker needs
some explanation. The term comes from someone I knew in college.
He said about a song he really liked, “It tackles me to the floor and licks
my face.” Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. A
face-licker, therefore is a particularly moving song. It is a song
that reaches inside of you and grabs hold of something for whatever reason.
“Hickory Wind” falls into that category.
OK, so if I’m comparing Phillips to Tom
Waits and Steve Earle, and saying so many good things about this album,
why am I only giving it a 3.5? Frankly, it’s because the songs,
although they are good, tend to meld together. It is a good, but
not great, album.
Phillips - Virginia Creeper
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