I shall start with a confession – I have to be honest, I only heard the songs from the “long play”, long after they were created – I had very nearly lost touch with the music of sam phillips, and I only found out about the “long play” subscription service in the first part of 2013, when they were finally shutting it down!
after buying both 2001′s mainly acoustic “fan dance” album, followed by the also low-key “a boot and a shoe” CD in 2004, four years later, in 2008, I ran across her then-new album “don’t do anything”, which I really fell in love with, but as I was struggling with health and other issues during this time, I never then realised what had happened – basically, sam removed herself from the business of dealing with record companies, and set up the “long play” project in 2009.
originally meant to run for one year, the “long play” ended up running for something like three years, with another two years passing before she finally pulled the plug on it in early 2013. I have to absolutely admire the guts of this woman, who basically said to her fans, via her website, “look, this is between you and me. you send me fifty-two dollars, and I will give you everything I produce as music over the next year, there is no record company involvement, this is between you and me”.
I totally admire that, and I don’t know how much uptake she originally got, but that’s a fantastic deal, because you actually got an enormous amount of music produced not over one year, but over three years or more – it just kept going and going, and she never asked for more funds, she just kept producing new music and sharing it with the subscribers – how cool is that? when, in 2013, she announced that the subscription service was to be ended – the website was so overwhelmed with people wanting to subscribe (myself included) that it crashed hard and stayed down for a couple of days – talk about a response. suddenly, those of us who knew how good sam phillips is – decided that we needed to download the entire “long play” in one go (which is what I did – and then, spent the next several weeks trying to absorb and understand what I had just downloaded…).
a compact disc of the “highlights” of the “long play” was produced (“solid state: songs from the long play”), for the “normal” markets, but beyond that, the “long play” was exactly what sam said it was, a subscription service, paying an artist directly for her work, NOT paying a greedy, grasping record company who had previously taken a huge cut of the money sam earned (doubtless, as that’s how it “works” in the record industry – the artist ends up with almost nothing compared to what the record companies make) – a great arrangement, and if she offers it again, I will sign up without a pico second of hesitation.
following “the long play”, sam has just very recently (early 2013) released the most excellent “push any button” cd which I am very much enjoying at the moment. but for now, we need to go back to the genesis of the “long play”, back to what happened after 2008′s “don’t do anything” CD.
2009 – long play year one
but now, let’s go back to the beginning of 2009, and the first track released under this new “long play” subscription service, the 2009 version of “I need love” – a standout track originally from sam’s seventh album, “martinis & bikinis” (1994). fifteen years later, to have a new version of this song, to me, is an absolute delight, and this re-arranged version could not be more different, and more exciting.
the original version of “I need love” is a band version, with full band, drums, basses, guitars, vocals. this new version, is sam phillips on acoustic guitar and voice, and strings by “the section quartet”, who are:
eric gorfain – violin, string arrangements
daphne chen – violin
lauren chipman – viola
richard dodd – cello
eric gorfain’s string arrangements are amazing, but to use a string quartet to replace a rock band, and to arrange what was a normal rock song, to be replaced by violins, violas, and cellos – in the way this track was arranged, well, it’s been done before, sure, but not by sam phillips – in fact, string arrangements of older songs (and some new ones, too) is a recurring theme in the long play, and it’s a theme I welcome. it’s done so tastefully, what could have been corny or overplayed or hackneyed, feels just right, and I applaud the arranger and the performers of “the section quartet” on a job really well done – this is a great version of this song!
the strings replace the lead guitars, while sam’s acoustic guitar drives the whole song forward, replacing drums, bass and rhythm guitars with one boldly strummed acoustic guitar, and the new vocal is even more pure and perfect than the original – I’ve always loved this song dearly, it’s really a fantastic tune, and I love the lyrics, too, and this new version really shines – it takes an excellent song, and gives us an excellent “what if…” version of it to enjoy along with the original.
I love it.
the next 2009 “long play” offering is a full band version of a new song, “when you’re down” (which reappears later on, twice more! in the “long play”) – a wonderfully present snare drum, panned full right, taps out a martial beat, as sam sings softly, “when you’re down, you find out what’s down there”, and then a sad lead guitar & bass guitar duet plays for a few moments until sam returns with her most world-weary, heartbroken voice – I love the vocal on this.
the mix of “when you’re down” is extraordinary, too, the acoustic guitars are hard left, the snare is hard right as is the lead guitar, there is a harmonium or accordion like keyboard that is also mixed hard right, while the thick, sine wave-like bass seems to be the only instrument that is even roughly centred – it’s a wonderful and very definite mix, a dark and unusual song – brief, but very moody and really heartfelt – I think it’s a fantastic song.
EP 1: hypnotists in paris
the third 2009 “long play” event is the first of five EPs, I love the extended play format, and it’s fabulous to receive these new sam phillips songs in nice, digestible chunks of five tracks at a time (sometimes six) – and it also allows sam to create a mood using titles, and I love the titles of all of her EPs and songs – this one is called “hypnotists in paris” which I think is absolutely fantastic – a great title, and she’s also included artwork that suggests just that.
here is the tracklist for the first EP, “hypnotists in paris”
what it all means
I don’t want to fall in love (2009 version)
say what you mean (2009 version)
so glad you’re here
these are new songs except for “I don’t want to fall in love”, which comes from sam’s fifth album, 1988’s “the indescribable wow”, and “say what you mean” which comes from sam’s ninth album, 2001’s “fan dance”.
what makes this EP both remarkable and very unique, is that all five songs are made with a very basic set up, acoustic guitar, voice and strings – the normal band arrangements that we might expect, are replaced with these remarkably elegant string arrangements from “the section quartet”.
we had a preview of what sam-phillips-with-strings sounds like with the first long play piece, the 2009 rework of “I need love”, but here, we have three new songs and two re-workings of older songs using basically the same set-up, voice and strings, or voice, acoustic guitar and strings, and it works so, so well – sam’s voice just floats so beautifully above the strings, and she seems incredibly comfortable singing along to these very different arrangements – singing along to a string quartet is very different to singing with a rock band.
but, ever the consummate professional, she pulls it off (like a level pulled down, perhaps!) as if she’d been doing it all her life, and she really seems in her element, and for the re-worked tracks, she breathes a whole new life into these “old songs” – they sound great with their shiny new string arrangements – I really enjoy these string driven versions of songs old and new.
the first track on the EP, “memory slope” just knocks me out, from the slick, concise strings to sam’s beautiful voice…the vocal on this track is so intimate, so beautiful: “it’s over it’s done…till I fall down the memory slope…” the strings so animated, the rhythm first pulsing, then flowing, while the effortlessly beautiful sam phillips sings with pure eyes-closed joy over the top – I absolutely adore this song, and the vocal melody really sticks in my brain…
next comes “what it all means” which has a much more “chugging” rhythm, which starts very simply, and then something really clever happens – sam sings a particular line, and the strings do exactly what she says!! “I can see it from all sides…” and the mostly mono-sounding violins suddenly separate into GLORIOUS stereo, so the instant she says “from all sides”…the strings go stereo. this kind of attention to detail is fantastic, and it’s the kind of thing I would put into a song and see if anyone notices…(I noticed, sam!).
this song is very, very short, and just when you think it’s really getting going…it suddenly ends on a sudden stop – fantastic.
now we get something truly extraordinary – the strings version of “I don’t want to fall in love” – which is simply one of the most amazing strings re-arrangement of a rock song I’ve ever heard. and the new vocal, it’s just so, so beautiful – this is one of the oldest songs represented here, originally produced in 1988, so, 21 years ago – and singing this now, in 2009, her voice is just astonishingly beautiful, especially when she sings the last part of the classic line “I don’t want to fall in love, with the idea of love…” her voice goes thin, breathy and impassioned all at once, and it’s shiver-inducing stuff, I can tell you. I think that’s a great lyric – “with the idea of love” – that says so, so much.
this EP is hauntingly beautiful, and the next song is a haunting, haunted beauty; minor key, stark, sad, the strings crashing together uncomfortably, slightly uncertainly, but with a great passionate beauty, slow, deliberate, supporting the sad, slow tale that sam sings, her reworking of a lovely song from the “fan dance” album (2001) the heartbreaking “say what you mean” – it’s a stop, a sudden stop and a movement to the minor, and after the bouncing rhythms of the previous three tracks, it’s a bit of a surprise – but a lovely one.
fifth, and final, is what might be the single most beautiful song on this EP, and possibly, of all of the long play – the piano ballad “so glad you’re here” – which is simply, a straightforward piano arrangement, with lovely cellos added, and sam’s voice – “I remember the day you were born – I wasn’t ready – I was scared – I’m so glad you’re here…I’m so glad” – but, in a soft, sombre and incredibly expressive voice.
“so glad you’re here” has moved into that realm, some of the rarefied few songs where sam just nails emotion so well, and it’s a song that very nearly moves me to tears each time I hear it – and I don’t even really understand why, except, it’s expressing happiness in a slightly sorrowful way…the lyrics are somewhat telling “nothing about us looks good on paper…paper’s no good in the middle of the night…so glad you’re here…so glad…”.
“people do all the wrong things for the right reasons…but somehow, you understand…I’m so glad you’re here…so glad.”
a brilliant chordal piano interlude with amazingly beautiful string accompaniment takes us through towards the end of the song…
“now is really all we have…now is all we have”.
thus ends the first long play EP, “hypnotists in paris”, and I can tell you, I would have been happy with just these five amazing string renditions of sam phillips’ songs old and new for my subscription money, but, there are not just four more EPs to come, but various other songs released as singles and b sides, plus an entire full length fully produced album. so this is just the beginning…
I believe that this new arrangement, where sam makes music for real fans who want to hear new music, must have been incredibly liberating for sam, because she produced a huge number of new songs in the first year of long play, and the second EP, “cold dark night”, coincided with christmas 2009, as makes sense since it’s sam singing four traditional christmas carols and two christmas themed songs written by sam.
EP 2: cold dark night
12 tracks over one year, which was supposed to be the entire “long play”, but when 2009 ended, sam carried on producing music and making it available to subscribers. the second EP for 2009, “cold dark night”, contained these tracks:
it came upon a midnight clear
cold dark night
it doesn’t feel like christmas
away in a manger
o holy night (bonus track)
for this EP, we return to a more familiar acoustic guitars/voices arrangement, with a muted, plucked guitar part underpinning sam’s glorious two and three and probably four part overdubbed vocal harmonies (shivers, chills and smiles), also aided and abetted by the strings, but it’s the voices that grab me here, I’ve always had a soft spot for this song, but to hear it song by the angelic phillips is a dream come true, heartbreaking, sincere, moved, moving, she absolutely nails this – my favourite ever christmas song cover – ever.
and that’s down to sam’s remarkable vocal arrangement, her harmonies are beyond perfect, they are chillingly beautiful.
next comes a really stark arrangement, an original song apparently about the birth of jesus, but the band is extremely funky sounding, a very small drum kit in an echoey space; bass, rhythm guitar, and sam pleading with us “when was he born? when was he born? on a cold dark night…” this roughshod arrangement suddenly bursting into rock and roll life, with a blistering lo-fi lead guitar solo from the very talented eric gorfain – I’d say this track captures an amazing lo-fi sound, the echoey drums, the dead sounding bass, the no-effects vocal, the rhythm guitars – and then that amazing solo, like the first good solo you played in your garage band, the first solo you were truly proud of – and this one rocks the house, with a little slapback echo, it’s just so smooth – strangely reminiscent of sam’s previous producer, t-bone burnett – but that is just coincidental.
“cold dark night” is a dark horse, a strange one, but a nice rocking little number.
the next original, “it doesn’t feel like christmas” – is a much more fully produced, studio creation, featuring the return of the absolutely astonishing sam phillips background vocals – just overdubbed, doubled “ahhs” but they take my breath away. starting with a lovely two note chiming lead guitar part, and dual acoustic guitars, a close-vocal harmony on the lead vocal, which then suddenly ends up in a very complex middle bit where there are multiple sam phillip’s singing melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, odd breathing vocals – then, a great lead solo, and more of those heartbreaking background vocals.
“I hoped that you’d be with me – this time next year”.
tubular bells ring out as she sings “it doesn’t feel like christmas” and suddenly, the chiming guitars disappear into maracas and a fading rhythm – another rocker, a beautiful production, a fantastic vocal arrangement – another one I absolutely love.
a relatively straight reading of “away in a manger” – with just one voice (as opposed to the massed overdubs and awesome production of the previous track) – but this song is pure devotion, and it’s kinda wonderful to hear the supposedly-now-secular sam phillips sing “I love you lord jesus” with so much emotion and passion – it’s wonderful (and I am not a christian, far from it – but I can hear the real devotion in her voice, and I respect that). the track starts out with just one guitar and one voice, then, the drums come in – and suddenly, another unexpected and blistering guitar solo from mr. gorfain. a fantastic and surprising arrangement of a traditional christmas song, and a very enjoyable one – great vocal.
“silent night” is next, starting with just a thumping drum/rhythm, this slowly builds, it’s mostly drum beat, simple bass guitar, strummed acoustic, and solo violin – a long, mournful violin solo fleshes out the track, which is lovely and minor key, reminds me of the neil young song, from the “everybody knows this is nowhere” album, “running dry (requiem for the rockets)” which features a doleful violin solo similar to this (or is it “round and round”? one of those two).
that is the only comparison I can make, and the solo violin and lead guitar interplay could almost be a neil young outtake – with a very different kind of vocalist.
the “bonus track” is another very straight reading, this time of “o holy night” – and this one is all about sam’s voice – accompanied only by acoustic guitar – sam’s confidence as a performer just means she can sail through something like this almost effortlessly, and the “fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices, oh night…divine…oh, oh night…when christ was born” is absolutely breathtaking – so, so lovely.
this is a voice of the heavens, simple, perfect, short and to the point. it’s also the shortest version I’ve ever heard (clocking in at a very tidy 1:55), and it suddenly is gone before you even realise. I am not normally enamoured of rock musicians, or pop musicians, or folk musicians, doing covers of christmas carols…
…but this mini-collection is great, because it’s not too much; the arrangements are unique and memorable, and you get two new christmas themed sam phillips tracks as well, one of them in glorious lo-fi, the other, beautifully and amazingly produced and arranged, and that makes this six song EP a real winner in my book – lovely work.
2010 – long play year two
EP 3: magic for everybody
“magic for everybody”, EP and song, is a real favourite of mine, introducing the lovely title track with it’s cheery message that “there’s magic for everybody”, this is one of those oddly perky sam phillips tracks that sticks in your brain for hours and days after you hear it – the sure symptom of pop genius, music that sticks in the brain. the first entrant for “the long play” in new year 2010, and the third EP; the full track listing for this EP is as follows:
always merry and bright
magic for everybody
level pulled down
tell her what she wants to know
beginning with “always merry and bright”, for me, it’s the vocal that stands out, and when sam sings the chorus, which is of course, the title, her voice has an odd, world-weary quality to it that almost belies the positive message of the song, it’s as if as she sings “always merry and bright…” that secretly, inside, she feels a little sad, not too merry, not too bright. I may be reading more into it than is there, but that is the impression I get from this vocal, which is delivered in a beautiful reverb, with lush strings behind. nice, close harmonies are featured on some of the lines, the song is slow, deliberate, evenly paced, and the string arrangement is a real highlight – otherwise, it’s a lovely, lovely tune and another one that sticks in the brain…
“magic for everybody” follows, another upbeat piece, which starts out with acoustic guitar and low-fi drum kit, with a beautiful, dry, un-effected vocal that knocks off my socks – “there’s magic for everybody – I know it’s so” – and “don’t let perfect make you blind, to this beautiful world…”, “don’t erase your crooked line – take your mistakes and come with me.” – that’s fantastic stuff, really encouraging and positive, and I love this odd song with it’s background vocals “oh, oh, oh” and then a dual guitar solo that’s to die for, with two different distorted guitars – this piece just rocks – and then there’s that voice again, pinning me down and leaving me helpless – “don’t let perfect make you blind…to this beautiful world”. sigh.
“trouble” is a very basic performance, mostly acoustic guitar and voice, minimal drums and bass, what seems to be the standard “let’s do this one lo-fi” set up that works so, so effectively with so many of these songs – the one extravagance here, is an absolutely astonishing stereo set of background vocals, which is then followed by what can only be described as a “vocal solo” in the centre of the mix, which then interacts with the ongoing stereo background vocals – the vocal arrangement on this piece is incredibly complex, and phillips needs to get credit for developing something so beautiful atop what at first appears to be a simple backing track – genius!
“lever pulled down” is a huge favourite of mine, a thumping bass drum and cracking snare accompany sam’s wonderful chorus “I’m a lever pulled down – I’m a flip switch” – fantastic imagery in this one – the verses are fairly non-descript, but that chorus – it’s instantly catchy, and the popping snare really accentuates sam’s vocal beautifully. a twangy almost country and western guitar solo, clean this time, rings out beautifully before we return to sam and her guitar – and then back to that awesome chorus – I love this track!
reverse guitars open “tell her what she wants to know”, which is just a tune of pure, pure sadness, and those guitars play through the intro, when sam, with no effects on her voice once again, sings so evenly and beautifully – the sad tale, about the things that this man should tell this woman – sam imploring him to “tell her what she wants to know – she’ll find out anyway” – wistfully … “tell her…” ”tell her…” a plain lead guitar takes over, and then sam is back to continue the tale. a really, really real and very sad tale, you feel so, so bad for the woman that sam is singing about, you really do, and sam has done it again, you can’t get this song out of your head, with it’s curiously simple revolving lead guitar riff and that wonderful, repeated “tell her..” motif – more genius from ms. phillips and her remarkable band.
heart on wheels single
the second long play entrant for 2010 is the single release, “heart on wheels” which is a somewhat more “produced”-sounding track, but still with a bit of the lo-fi, nice twangy tremelo lead guitars are tastefully supporting this serious, and steady paced track, with a nice “middle eight”, followed by a lovely tremelo lead solo, I really like the band on this track, they are very subtle, but they support sam beautifully – a lovely little track “nothing can stop you now – you gotta keep driving on…”.
EP 4: old tin pan
third entry for 2010 and the fourth EP produced, it’s amazing just how quickly sam produced all of the long play material, it just seems to flow from her pen and her voice, I think being free of “the record company” for the first time ever, must have been so liberating, and the unique and creative song arrangements are testament to a revitalise, excited phillips – doing what she does best – writing and recording songs.
the track listing for this EP is as follows:
not so fast
when you’re down
old tin pan
I shall seek thee earnestly
go on alone
beginning with the remarkable “not so fast”, this is a fantastic pop song; catchy, and it contains some really unusual vocal techniques that really draw me in – it’s difficult to describe in words, but I will try, the song starts with a jaunty piano riff and some drum rolls, possibly timpani – then sam’s dry, un-effected voice begins, singing the verse – but when she reaches the chorus, there is a subtle change in her voice, as if a chorus had been switched on – and when she gets to the middle eight, whispered, beautiful vocal harmonies appear, so delicate you dare not breathe – and then, back to that piano -
aimee’s temple continues the “piano theme” – two songs in a row that start with piano, this one, with a lovely, intricate vocal melody, and then the drums come crashing in, along with pizzicato strings, that follow the descending chord sequence down – then, massed, harmonising violins support the lovely second verse, where sam is hitting a lot of really beautiful high notes, slightly higher than the range she normally sings in – and she sounds great! then – it’s suddenly over, with an ominous, descending four note piano riff – the lowest four notes on the piano, descending slowly…shivers.
one of the most compelling songs in the long play is “when you’re down”, which I immediately took a liking to, but it wasn’t until upon subsequent listens to the track, that I realised that this is the first and only song I’ve ever heard that is thematically and musically similar to 1977-era van der graaf (at least, this 2010 version is) ! strange and unlikely as that seems…it really is, and in fact, taking the analogy one step further, the string arrangement, and in particular, the wild gypsy violin solo, remind me specifically of the van der graaf track “cat’s eye/yellow fever”(!!??!!??).
that’s a song utterly unique in peter hammill‘s catalogue, a song I never thought I’d ever hear anything even REMOTELY like it, and while there is similarity, the songs are not identical in any way, the vocal styles, for example, are completely different – but something about the chord sequence, and the wild violin solo, reminds me so, so strongly of “cat’s eye/yellow fever” – one of my very, very favourite van der graaf / hammill tracks, which features graham smith’s (formerly of string driven thing) massed string overdubs/attack, and wonderful, albeit slightly insane, soloing on the violin :-)
so sam phillips, of all people, has managed to create a song that reminds me of van der graaf at their most intense, and I’d happily put the two tracks side by side in any play list. in this way, the long play continues to surprise, and I find in particular that a lot of these songs have a clarity and simplicity that really appeals to me – there is something peculiar and wonderful about the string arrangements; and the instrumentation and sort of “roots” rock sound, almost audio verite in parts, is so appealing – the songs sound real, because they are real – this is real drums, real bass, real piano, real strings, real violin solos, real cello solos, real viola solos, real acoustic guitars, and sam’s amazing real voice – and it’s that voice, the one that sings almost seductively “when you’re down, you find out what’s down there…” over and over again, while the violin flies, van der graaf style, in the background…that voice, the perfect vocal vehicle for the lyric and feeling that is “when you’re down” – one of the most remarkable of all of the long play series.
I never dreamed in a million years that sam phillips would write and record a song that brings a peter hammill song so strongly to mind, but she has, and somehow, while that is surprising, it’s also not surprising – if anyone could perform such a miraculous feat (bring to mind one of peter hammill‘s most amazing songs ever) it would be sam – she is simply remarkable. even stranger is the fact that within one year, sam felt that she needed to remake the song – and when you compare the 2009 version and this (first of two) 2010 version – well, they are the same song, but the 2010 version has been radically re-imagined for solo and duo and massed gypsy violin, and features a fantastic, odd all strings ending, too – whereas the 2009 version is a relatively straight “lo-fi band version” – both are lovely, both are good, but I tend towards this imaginative remake – and this just illustrates the quality that sam has: ever-questing, never satisfied, always thinking “I can do a better version of this” – and then doing it! i wish more artists would re-evaluate and re-invent the way sam does – it’s brilliant, and it also gives us two great versions of a very cool song.
next is “old tin pan”, which is sort of an acoustic guitar rave up, with hand percussion, and sam singing in her most urgent and beautiful voice, a thumping bass drum comes in just in time for the lovely “la-la-la” chorus, there is something very old-timey about this track, which I am sure is intentional, and the wordless chorus is somehow perfect – then something like a twelve-string guitar (?) comes in for a simplistic but effective solo – and then back to sam, narrating the story, the crash of a cymbal propelling the song to it’s sudden end.
an odd percussion sound, sets the sombre rhythm of the very, very serious “I shall seek thee earnestly” which is the closest that sam comes to ultra dark – it’s slow, secretive and haunting – minor key, and serious, devotional lyrics – a slow violin takes the first solo as the band drifts through the simple chord changes, slowly, slowly – and then back to our good narrator, sam phillips. the way she enunciates her words is remarkable “sanct-u-ary” is just lovely, and this is a serious, intense vocal performance of the ultra serious variety.
more strange percussion begins the final track from this EP, a half-spoken first line, at a beautiful low pitch, this is almost smoky jazz, the piano is back again, but not jaunty this time, it’s more subtle, and as the song progresses, the violin enters, the piano builds, and sam’s vocal just gets so, so beautiful – “I’ll go on alone…it’s what I’ve always known….I’ll invite the angels up tonight to sing…” absolutely lovely – a duo of violins carries us forward to an even more hushed verse, and then back to that brave, heartfelt chorus “I’ll go on alone…”
EP 5: days of the one night stands
the fourth 2010 “long play” entry, and the fifth EP, “days of the one night stands” contains these tracks:
(I’m not your) stepping stone
where is love now
the fifth EP begins with a cover, but a most unusual one – the pace is slow, deliberate, almost lazy – when a close-harmony sam arrives with the famous chorus “I I I I’m not your stepping stone…” – then, the super slow, super low, verses are just so intense – sam’s voice takes on a wonderful quality when she pushes down for those super low notes – and then, just as easily, she soars up to soprano like it’s nothing, I love her range and the way she uses it. intensely beautiful background vocals form a lovely motif after the first verse, almost like an ambient interval, and then a lovely, bendy guitar solo takes over – and then that shiver-inducing, ultra low sam on the second verse – and then flying up to the chorus again – and the slow, slow pace is just relentless – an absolutely unique cover of this well-known song, and I love the arrangement – classic sam phillips, tackling an unlikely tune and getting it just right.
the new version of “lying” features a very stripped down version, no elvis costello guitar riff, and a really, really beautiful new vocal – so carefully sung, so, so perfect – meticulous is the word. then – an amazing distorted violin solo, which is just so unexpected and so, so beautiful – and then back to the new vocal, now with an amazing close harmony, so three or four sams are now singing the last part of this excellent track – and then there is that absolutely stunning distorted violin again, stealing the show – fantastic.
there are also some great mixing techniques here, some really odd ideas, such as “green grass” where all the instruments are mixed hard left, and the lead vocal, alone, is mixed hard right – so emulating an old mono recording as heard on a stereo record – many old beatles songs are arranged this way, instruments on one side, vocals on the other, but when played back in stereo, over speakers, the effect is cohesive – but in headphones (where I am now) the separation is awesome – and sam’s voice alone is so beautiful, as is the string arrangement in the other speaker – stunningly beautiful. I love it when people take risks like this, mixing something in a very daring way – and “green grass”, which is a heartbreaking and beautiful song, is one such bold, daring mix – I wish we had more like it – bravo.
next up is “where is love now”, a lovely, acoustic guitar and voice-led piece, “dry the tears from my eyes…leave me here long enough to realise…” – a quiet, reflective sam phillips here – delicate piano and guitar notes, and then that calm, loving voice, so calm – with a determination that is undeniable, the song builds in intensity, the chorus ringing out “where is love now?” – “out here in the dark…” – a minimal guitar solo takes us to another verse, and a quietly strummed section – and the song is over.
“undecided” starts with an almost unaccompanied sam, her voice alone, with a barely audible acoustic guitar – then, the band comes in, the guitar becomes audible, and sam’s short vocal couplets are delivered with passion and intensity, “if you’ve got a heart and if you’re kind…” old-timey solo violin takes the place of the lead solo, in the second verse, sam’s voice really builds in intensity, then she hits the chorus hard…and then, the song slows, stops – and then starts up again, a false ending (not something we hear much of on sam phillips‘ records) but a lovely way to end the piece.
2010 “long play” “go on alone”/”when you’re down” single release, two sided single, contains the following:
go on alone – 2010 version
when you’re down – 2010 version
the fifth and final release from the 2010 section of the “long play” is confusing, in that it presents new versions of tracks we’ve heard previously in the long play – for “go on alone”, the second outing – this version is slower, more reflective, with strange percussion and pianos – a lovely variant from the not-very-long-before-released version from the “old tin pan” EP just months earlier…
then, believe it or not, this final 2010 release contains a THIRD version of “when you’re down” – piano and keyboards version, a lovely, sombre, serious version – with a beautiful, ambient piano in an amazing echo-ey reverb, a lovely, understated vocal – yet another fantastic version of a great sam phillips song – so – if I am understanding this correctly – the three versions of “when you’re down” run something like this:
2009 – band version
2010 – violin version
2010 – piano version – ambient
and that in itself is remarkable, but it goes to show you, how many different way sam “hears” things in her head – and that is a fascinating insight into the song-writing, arranging, and mixing process. did those three versions all come from one master session? two? or are there three unique sessions, re-recorded to encompass sam’s latest and newest vision of what “when you’re down” sounds like at this moment, in her mind? we may never know!
2011 – long play year three
the original culmination of the originally-envisioned “long play” series was a full album, and that culmination finally appeared in early 2011 in the form of the mostly all new songs-filled “cameras in the sky” CD. I think that this is a great record, and I was happy when later on, sam decided to make it available as a regular purchase item that anyone can buy – which is good, because you really shouldn’t miss it.
the full track listing for the “cameras in the sky” CD is as follows:
leap towards the earth
throw yourself away
little white feet
cameras in the sky
when I’m a camera
so glad you’re here
I won’t do a track-by-track analysis since this record is available to everyone, online, from sam’s website, but suffice to say that this is a most excellent and unique collection of very creative songs – well worth investing in.
but that still wasn’t the very end…! a few more 2011 releases round out the massive, three-years-of-output collection that is “the long play” – surely the most successful subscription service ever envisioned – and an excellent deal for subscribers, who got a LOT more than sam promised – a LOT more! which has to be a good thing.
next up then, was a three-song single, that collects together a few oddities, but I really like this release, especially the second track, “I don’t know what it all means” – which was given out with “believer” magazine in 2008 – a lovely little song.
the single contained these tracks:
I don’t know why – 2008 version
I don’t know what it all means – believer magazine version
trouble – world cafe version – 2010 (live)
so this is another great little release that just adds to the immense musical value of “the long play”.
one last thing – the penultimate “long play” item:
plastic is forever – 2011 version
this is a truly unique track in sam’s canon, from one of her most “difficult” albums (1996′s “omnipop (it’s only a flesh wound lamb chop”), re-imagined here sans electronica, with voice and acoustic guitar – which really brings out the fact that even when disguised by strange, electronic arrangements, as this song originally was; underneath, there is a living, breathing song – and this simplified version is really proof positive of that fact. a song with a message, too: “plastic is forever” – not a good message, but a truthful one, sung in a heartbreaking voice…”and ever…”
“plastic is forever” in it’s stripped down 2011 version, was the last “long play” offering proper; bringing to close almost three years of exciting new music from one of our best and most under-appreciated songwriters, ms. sam phillips.
but there was still one more goodie in the pipeline. once the series was over, sam decided to create a commercially available album that brought together 13 of the best tracks from the “long play” series – so that people that never subscribed, could at least get the essence of what happened during those three years. it’s a great collection, entitled “solid state: songs from the long play”. it draws from all parts of the series, including the recently-released “cameras in the sky” album – and it’s a great compilation:
magic for everybody
throw yourself away
tell her what she wants to know
lever pulled down
not so fast
what it all means
it doesn’t feel like christmas
when I’m a camera
so glad you’re here
and that, at long last, is truly the end of the story – “cameras in the sky”, the album promised for the end of 2009, was finally delivered in early 2011, since the “long play” had been extended from one year to over two years at that point; and then, retrospectively, sam decided nearer the end of 2011, to create a retrospective of “the long play” that everyone could enjoy, and thus “solid state: songs from the long play” was born – which if listened to on it’s own, really does give you a great flavour of what this exciting new music subscription was all about.
I would also say a word in general about the many, many string arrangements included and utilised within “the long play” – in fact, the very first tracks in “the long play” are of course, older sam phillips songs reworked for either acoustic guitar and strings, or piano and strings, and I have to applaud this approach, I am all for artists who constantly re-invent their catalogue – in this case, with “the long play”, sam has taken a number of her older songs, stripped them back to their basic arrangement of guitar and voice or piano and voice, and re-recorded them with new, special string arrangements – and of course, new vocals, but, often, the guitar is sometimes stopped so you get just sam’s voice against the strings – and these re-workings are just so effective, and so pleasant – in particular, the 2009 rework of “I need love”, which was a fantastic song to begin with, which used to sport a regular rock or pop arrangement, done by a regular “band” – and the original version is great, I love it – but the 2009 re-work, with it’s beautiful string arrangement, is in a class by itself; I love the new “I need love” – it’s simple, effective, and very, very beautiful.
these “string versions” of older sam phillips songs could have been a disaster, but instead, they are a triumph, and I love every one of them, and I also really love all the new songs sporting lovely string arrangements – I love where this is going, and I hope sam continues this trend, as well as some of the other trends within the long play, the increased use of piano, normal or jangly, the use of reverse guitars, the use of very distorted rhythm electric guitars, and so on, her “lo-fi/old timey” band – a lot of great musical devices are being employed here, on both the reworking of older songs and in the creation of new pieces – and I so, so applaud their use and inclusion in “the long play” series.
you can no longer purchase or subscribe to the long play, and most of the releases have been removed from sam’s website – but, you do have one recourse, which is the most excellent “solid state: songs from the long play” which still is available – and I heartily recommend it to all.
as for those of us who subscribed – no matter how late, ahem, some of us were, we are blessed with owning a massive collection of fantastic sam phillips music that took up three years – 2009 through 2011, sandwiching two great “standard” albums – 2008′s “don’t do anything” and 2013′s “push any button”.
what a great way to spend three years. I hope she has no regrets, for us, we got a mass of great EPs, singles and albums that we might not have normally got, had sam gone on in “record company” mode – I for one, am so, so glad that she made the decision to go down the subscription / direct dealings with the fans route – and I wish more artists would do this – cut the record companies right out of the mix – show them that we no longer need them.
sam phillips has created a business model that all of us musicians could learn from, and in doing so, has also created music that is real, vital and extraordinarily beautiful – I hope you will agree.
please also see my previous blog regarding sam phillips - a wizard, a true star.