Sam Phillips, Solid State (Littlebox Recordings, 2011)

From her Christian rock beginnings, to her albums produced by ex-husband T Bone Burnett, and through to her present work, Sam Phillips has made a career out of doing things her own peculiar way.  Over the past two years, she has worked on an extended project called The Long Play, for which she has written and recorded a steady stream of EPs plus one full-length album available via subscription from her website.  Solid State is a more publicly available compilation of recordings taken from the sessions for The Long Play, and it shows Phillips to be in continued fine form after her strong previous album Don't Do Anything.

The music on Solid State is deliberately underproduced. Outside of a couple of tracks with backing from a string quartet, Phillips' songs are given a front porch treatment. Phillips' acoustic rhythm guitar is the dominant instrument on most of the tracks, with a light amount of accompaniment.  Her understanding of pop music styles from different decades has always been exemplary, even if she leans a bit more on the sixties than on other decades, and that remains the case on Solid State. If Phillips hasn't changed her style much in recent years, she also hasn't altered her high standard of intelligent, thoughtful, melodic songwriting. The album's best lyrics come on the song "What It All Means," on which Phillips sings over a string quartet. "So I've tried to simplify," Phillips sings, "but it seems as if that's what you do when you die."

Sam Phillips has been one of the most consistently interesting and enjoyable performers in rock for quite some time now. Solid State isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it is chock full of good, straightforward pop songs.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

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