Sam Phillips | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

As a songwriter, Sam Phillips is drawn to the debilitating effects of frustrated longing and missed opportunities, topics to which her ravaged, world-weary voice is well suited. Like her last album, Fan Dance, Phillips's terrific new release, A Boot and a Shoe (Nonesuch), was produced by her husband, T-Bone Burnett, who's given it a small but spacious sound and ornamented her spare acoustic guitar riffs with unusual touches--a Weimar cabaret vamp backed by oddly muffled drums, distorted strings that stretch and curl into a saxophonelike solo. The songs are characteristically moody: in "How to Quit" Phillips succumbs to desire against her better judgment ("I thought I knew how to quit / Drunk on memory we start up"); in "Open the World" she explores a damaging communication breakdown. Even at their darkest, however, her songs are stamped by keen self-knowledge; she dissects her pain and disappointment rather than wallowing in it. But her greatest virtue is her melodic sense--the best of these songs rival Lennon-McCartney classics like "Girl" and "I'm Only Sleeping" for lyric elegance. The last time Phillips was in Chicago she played solo; this time she appears with a band. Mark Federighi opens. $20. Friday, June 11, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rocky Schenck.

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