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Singer 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.  

CD Info 

Grant-Lee Phillips - Virginia Creeper
Label: Zoe
Mona Lisa
Waking Memory
Dirty Secret
Always Friends
Calamity Jane
Josephine Of The Swamps
Far End Of The Night
Susannah Little
Hickory Wind
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