Sam Phillips - Don’t Do Anything

I have so much respect for artists who simply follow their muse without any concern for record sales or the latest hot trends in the music industry. I consider singer/songwriter Sam Phillips to be one such artist. Her most recent release titled Don’t Do Anything is like a breath of fresh air among all the cookie-cutter, pro-tooled recordings that clutter the current marketplace. This self-produced effort foregoes the modern, ultra-sheen sound and opts for a more earthy, organic approach. In general, the arrangements are sparse and open which brings the focus more toward Phillips’ vocals and the songs themselves. This approach wouldn’t work unless the songwriting is up to the task and fortunately in this case, Phillips delivers the goods.

The album starts out strong with Phillips singing “I thought if he understood, he wouldn’t treat me this way. No explanations..” accompanied by a distorted guitar and a tribal bass drum. It sets the tone for the rest of the album. One may also notice a lack of bass guitar in a number of the songs here. It’s a pretty bold choice especially during sections with full-on drums but again that’s just typical Sam Phillips going against the grain. The standout track for me is the title track, “Don’t Do Anything”. Phillips wrote the track with her ex-husband T-Bone Burnett in mind with lines like “I love you when you don’t do anything…When you’re useless I love you more…”

She’s pretty economical in her choice of words but the way she uses them are pretty profound. The only thing that holds the album back is the limited scope of the sonic palette especially as the album winds down. But other than that, a wonderful record and a great addition to Phillips’ splendid catalog of albums.

Aimee Mann - Smilers

Aimee Mann’s back to basics approach for her latest album#Smilers is refreshing and a welcomed change of pace following her concept album The Forgotten Arm . by keeping the arrangements simple and straightforward, Mann brings the focus back to the songs themselves. and fortunately, she’s got some great material here. Mann skillfully conjures up detailed stories and characters in her songs that are intertwined with memorable melodies. she makes it look easy but obviously it’s not that simple.

Lines like: “I thought my life would be different somehow, I thought my life would be better by now but it’s not and I don’t know where to turn..” (31 Today) resonate with most of us that are dealing with “this thing called life”. oh, and the cynicism behind her singing “Go, honey, go, into the ocean.. into the great beyond ’til you’re good and gone and you can hide away for when everything goes wrong..” (the Great Beyond) is absolutely perfect. I love it. @#%&*! Smilers is a strong effort from start to finish. personal favorites off the album include - Freeway, 31 Today, The Great Beyond andBorrowing Time.

Upcoming Wetton Downes dates

Hot on the heels of Asia’s successful comeback album Phoenix , keyboardist Geoff Downes and bassist/vocalist John Wetton are gearing up for the launch of their third Wetton/Downes studio album. But first, they’re planning on some live dates in Japan to debut some of the new material. In addition to those dates, they are also scheduled to record a special show in the UK for an upcoming DVD release. I’m personally surprised Wetton and Downes (as well as Asia/Yes guitarist Steve Howe) continue to dilute their audience base like this.

If it were up to me, I’d capitalize on the success of Phoenix and extend the tour under the Asia moniker or use the time to record a followup album. That way, the momentum isn’t lost. Instead, we have Howe touring as “Yes” without Jon Anderson and Wetton/Downes releasing material that most likely could have been material for another Asia album. But knowing the convoluted history of two bands, I guess it’s just more of the same.

Clone Wars - meh.

Took the kids to watch the new Star Wars: The Clone Warsmovie this weekend. I wasn’t expecting much since the overallrotten tomatoes score for the movie is at a lowly 4%. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “tomatometer” that low before!! Anyway, my kids wanted to see the movie no matter what the critics said so we went. And not surprisingly, the kids ended up liking it and I was left wondering if there was anything noteworthy to write about in the flick. and that’s just it. all I felt about it was: “meh”. The battle scenes were pretty cool I must say but the story and character interactions weren’t all that memorable. I still can’t recall what went on in the story except for some deception by Count Dooku and some kidnapped slimy Hutt baby. Oh and I can confirm that the character animation in the film definitely has an eerie “Thunderbirds” marionettes feel to them. I’m not sure if it was a knowing “wink” to the old 60’s TV show but it made the characters a bit stiff and odd looking. It’s sad to see that George Lucas has to continue to milk this cash cow but … hey, my kids don’t seem to mind..