The Austin Chronicle

Phases and Stages

SXSW records

Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, March 7, 2003, Music

Grant-Lee Phillips

Ladies' Love Oracle (Rounder) Some musicians are born with an innate sense of how to zero in on the tenderest parts of a listener's heart. Grant-Lee Phillips is one of those musicians, and on Ladies' Love Oracle he homes in on the heartstrings with surgical precision and plucks them, not cruelly, but gently, as though he's singing just for you. Recorded in 1999, not long after the dissolution of Grant Lee Buffalo, Ladies' Love Oracle is a collection of nine solo acoustic songs Phillips recorded in three days in Jon Brion's (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple) basement studio, and it's simply beautiful songwriting. The opening track, "You're a Pony," is deeply intimate and somewhat unpolished -- just like an ideal partner. "Heavenly" is a touching love song almost too private to listen to, as the ardency of Phillips' desire is so bald and intense. The instrumentation is spare, unadorned, with just a guitar or piano most of the time, plus the odd harmonica. Oracle's centerpiece is "Don't Look Down," for which Phillips enacts his own subject matter, soaring sweetly, enjoying the breeze, and not daring (or wanting) to come down and break the spell. "Sometimes a sketch says more than a mural," writes Phillips of the album's "less-is-more" approach. What's amazing is that Phillips' sketches are just as artful as his murals. (Cactus Cafe, Friday, 11pm)

*** .5

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