Best Reimagining of the Work of Gospel Singer Washington Phillips

Advance Base, The World Is in a Bad Fix Everywhere (Orindal)

Critics' Picks

Washington Phillips is the kind of oddball musician listeners love to romanticize. A preacher from Texas who recorded a scant 18 gospel songs in the late 1920s, he played a strange-sounding zither of some kind that he may have built himself—but because his life and career are barely documented, no answers are likely to be forthcoming about what he thought he was doing. The weird, fragile twinkling and chiming of Phillips's zither, combined with his heartfelt, bluesy drawl—his nasal high tenor sometimes quivers with a vibrato so intense you'd expect him to shatter—gives his songs an otherworldly aura that can appeal to people who've never set foot in a church. Since his death in 1954, Phillips has been covered by the likes of Will Oldham, Phish, and Mogwai, and recently local singer-songwriter Owen Ashworth (now performing as Advance Base but formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone) released a five-song EP of Phillips's material called The World Is in a Bad Fix Everywhere. Ashworth captures the quaint, graceful, and slightly shambolic sound of the originals—his Autoharp strumming is a particularly nice touch—and fills some of their empty spaces with warm piano notes that float like balloons. The soft incandescence of Advance Base's music shines a light on the details in Phillips's tunes but doesn't mess around too much with their spirit—from the sound of this EP, Ashworth and Phillips are a match made in, um, heaven.