Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., Oct. 12, 2001
Sam PhillipsFan Dance (Nonesuch)
It's been much too long since we've had any new music from Sam Phillips. Her last studio recording was the sadly overlooked Omnipop, released in 1996. Fan Dance is an engaging return, albeit a decidedly understated one. Once again, Phillips works with husband and producer T-Bone Burnett, and together they've fashioned a set of songs that's perfect for late nights and lazy afternoons. With the sparest of accompaniment, most of the compositions here feature only a gui, Phillips leading the listener down a very personal road. Her melodies are simple but enveloping, while her lyrics read like poetry, and she sings them with a mystical allure that's quite inviting. Throughout Fan Dance's 12 songs, the somber atmosphere never lets up, and for a lesser songwriter, this might become a trap. Phillips and Burnett, for their part, have created a myriad of interesting soundscapes that hang together nicely, getting help from guests Gillian Welch, Van Dyke Parks, and Marc Ribot. Some of the songs are relatively brief snippets that are just a thread of an idea, like the off-kilter, near-instrumental "Is That Your Zebra?". Tunes such as the rustic-pop "Five Colors," torch ballad "Say What You Mean," and the Beatlesque "How to Dream" stand proudly next to her best work, however. Fan Dance is one of those albums that needs to be absorbed to be fully enjoyed, and those who take the time are sure to find its many rewards.