Years after Austin's late Rob Jacks advised her to "go more pop," onetime Two Nice Girl Gretchen Phillips has done just that without compromising the singularity of her voice. Equally comfortable working in sublime lilt and cheeky raunch, Phillips artfully navigates her way around the nexus of esoteric femme folk and punk rock cabaret. What's significant about Comforting is the way it builds upon Phillips' left-field pedigree to find more universal chords. Opener "Red State/Blue State" is a Casio-fired disco plea to avoid letting political rifts sap capacity for kindness, while the Dave Driver duet, "Honey, I Feel So Good," channels a beatific, lazy Sunday kind of love from the coffeehouse to the honky-tonk. Phillips has been performing her Sonic Youth-derived, twentysomething journal piece "Burning Inside" for more than a decade, but co-producer Rob Halverson unleashes the song's full-bodied rock potential here. "Your Drinking" is a simple but affecting portrait of a loved one's addiction, which makes "Swimming" all the more hilarious with its deadpan ruminations on breaststrokes and copious pubes. "To the Lady C" encapsulates long-term love's transformative power with an earnest sentimentality that Hallmark would kill for. Looking outward, Phillips' ecumenical gospel reaches full bloom on "In Case of Rapture," which bypasses cheap shots at religion to ask, "Why don't we stay here and try to make things work?" With a soundtrack like this, that's not a bad idea.
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