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Archive for the ‘T Bone Burnett’ Category

Review: Sam Phillips, “Martinis & Bikinis”

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To call the career of Sam Phillips a varied one is a colossal understatement.  The singer and songwriter born Leslie Ann Phillips has played a mute terrorist opposite Bruce Willis, placed several singles in the contemporary Christian Top 10, and today can be found scoring the exploits of a headstrong dancer and her imperious mother-in-law on ABC Family’s drama Bunheads.  Though Phillips has hardly slowed down in the intervening years, fans still hold close the creative period she shared with then-husband T Bone Burnett beginning in the late 1980s and continuing through the next decade.  Phillips’ third secular rock album, 1994’s Martinis & Bikinis, may still be her strongest statement yet on record, and it’s just received a loving, deluxe treatment from the folks at Omnivore Recordings (OVCD-24, 2012).

Martinis & Bikinis was the sound of a songwriter coming into her own, aided by sympathetic production and a crack team of musicians.  It built on the eclectic sound of its predecessors, but placed a razor-sharp aural focus on the sounds of the late sixties, and in particular, The Beatles.  Yet Phillips was the rare artist who could channel her influences while avoiding outright pastiche.  The sonic signature of Martinis & Bikinis owes a great debt to the sounds pioneered by the Fab Four (and even more specifically, though not exclusively, the songs of John Lennon) from 1966’s Revolver on.

Why would an exceedingly original artist like Phillips choose to pay such clear homage to icons of the past?  Why not?  It’s difficult (certainly for this writer!) to argue with the assertion that the mid- to late-1960s was the most consistently creative, fertile and fascinating time for popular music in the last half of the century.  Yes, the form of expression was different.  But in John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Brian Wilson, and Bob Dylan, pop and rock music finally found an answer to the greats of the first part of the century: George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein, and so on.  Like that earlier generation, those sixties writers created enduring songs that would be performed and recorded well into the next century.  Phillips’s melodies aren’t as effortless as her forebears, her lyrics not as direct (though their cryptic quality may be an essential part of the Phillips mystique) – but Martinis, all the same, is a richly rewarding listen that deepens with each play.  Why wouldn’t an artist want to play on that playground?  To capture even a fraction of the same creative frisson as The Beatles is no small accomplishment.

We’ve got much more after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 19, 2012 at 09:59

Martinis and Bikinis, with a Side of T-Bone: Sam Phillips’ 1994 Classic Coming to CD and Vinyl

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How to describe the career trajectory of Sam Phillips?  Leslie Ann Phillips first made a splash in the music world recording contemporary Christian pop in 1983, took the name “Sam,” moved to the mainstream in the late 1980s with then-husband T Bone Burnett at the production helm, and even threatened Bruce Willis as an onscreen nemesis (albeit a mute one!) in Die Hard with a Vengeance!  Sam Phillips continues to write and record today, focusing her efforts on a digital subscription service of new music as well as on composing for the new ABC Family television series Bunheads.  The gang at Omnivore Recordings, however, is turning the clock back for an expanded edition of Phillips’ 1994 Martinis & Bikinis.  Her third outing for Virgin Records following 1989’s aptly-titled The Indescribable Wow and 1991’s Cruel Inventions, Martinis & Bikinis has never been released on vinyl till now.  Both the vinyl and CD editions will be bolstered by four bonus tracks.

Like her past efforts for Virgin as well as her final release as Leslie Phillips, Martinis & Bikinis was produced by T Bone Burnett.  Van Dyke Parks brought his singular talents as an arranger, and a team of musicians was enlisted to join Phillips including R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, John Zorn) and Jerry Scheff (Elvis Presley’s TCB Band).

Martinis & Bikinis was hailed by critics upon its release for steadfastly maintaining Phillips’ own voice and love of Beatles-influenced pop.  In the New York Times, Alec Foege praised the “haunting arrangements” and “melodic phrases quoted from Beatles hits,” and concluded that “what’s surprising is that such gorgeous tunes aren’t topping the charts.”  (That love of The Beatles’ pure songcraft extended to a cover of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth” which closed the original album.)  Phillips went on to score a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal for the album’s “Circle of Fire.”

Hit the jump for more details on Omnivore’s new reissue! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 25, 2012 at 09:49

Elton, Orbison, Plant, Mellencamp, Allman Salute “The Producer” On New T Bone Burnett Comp

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T Bone Burnett epitomizes cool.  The former Joseph Henry Burnett, with his omnipresent sunglasses, is so cool, in fact, that he makes the name “T Bone” sound hip!  He’s the producer as rock star, an artist whom superstars and fresh-faced talents alike seek out for a shot in the arm.  He’s also the man who made bluegrass trendy.  And lest his cool credentials be in doubt, the man toured with Bob Dylan on the Rolling Thunder Revue!  Raised in Texas, by way of Missouri, Burnett relocated to Southern California as the seventies began, fronted a couple of bands and gained major notice in 1980 with Truth Decay, an album bearing little relation to anybody else’s music at the dawn of that decade.  It was during the 1980s that the musical revivalist began making significant inroads as a producer for other artists, eventually amassing a resume dotted with names like Roy Orbison and Elton John, John Mellencamp and Robert Plant.  And oh yeah, he picked up an Oscar, too.  The career of T Bone Burnett, producer, is the subject of a most unique new compilation from Starbucks Entertainment, available now at the ubiquitous coffee shops.  The simply-titled T Bone Burnett: The Producer collects fifteen of his finest productions as well as a booklet with track-by-track notes by Burnett recalling the stories behind the songs.

Journalist Bill Flanagan has suggested that Burnett is “the conscience of the music industry,” if such a thing is possible, opting instead that he’s “a one-man counterculture.”  The story of the one-man counterculture began in Texas where he was running a studio at an early age.  (He even cut a number of pop songs with future Broadway star Betty Buckley there!)  Always a man of mystery, he appeared on a 1968 album by a group with a name that could only have come out of that era: Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill.  Which was T Bone?  Productions for another group, The Case Hardy Boys, followed, as eventually did another album, The B-52 Band and the Fabulous Skylarks.   Burnett began frequenting the clubs of New York’s hallowed Bleecker Street, where he reportedly met Bob Dylan.  Whatever the circumstances, it wasn’t long before Burnett was appearing alongside Mick Ronson and Bobby Neuwirth on the Rolling Thunder Revue.  He then formed The Alpha Band at the behest of Arista’s Clive Davis, though the charts were hardly bothered by the band’s albums.   It was on 1980’s solo Truth Decay (ironically not produced by its singer and songwriter but by Reggie Fisher that Burnett’s “voice” became evident via its collection of what Rolling Stone termed “mystic Christian blues.”  The songs were inspired by Sun Studios, and old blues and folk records, and despite the title, arguably had more truth in them than much of the synthesized popular music storming the charts.  Burnett was on his way.  Hit the jump to join T Bone in 1987! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 2, 2011 at 13:37