Shawn Phillips shares with Tim Buckley and
Van Morrison the passion for black music
and a constant innovation in vocal techniques.
Texas-born, Phillips began his career as a folk-singer in California, where
he recorded his early albums Favourite Things - I'm a Loner (Columbia, 1965), that
included only three original compositions, and
First Impressions (Columbia, 1966), which was a little bolder but
basically also in the tradition of the New York folksinger.
After living in England and Paris, Phillips settled in Italy.
Sessions with Steve Winwood, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi of the Traffic yielded the material for
Contribution (A&M, 1970), a much more original work.
First of all, the material was entirely composed by Phillips.
Second, it included three lengthy songs (L Ballad, Withered Roses,
Screamer For Phlyses) that looked more like jams.
Third, Phillips mixed folk, rock, psychedelia, jazz, classical and Indian music.
The opening Man Hole Covered Wagon was the only conventional song.
Withered Roses was closer to a raga than to a ballad.
L Ballade was virtually a classical sonata.
The pieces on Second Contribution (1970) were even more abstract,
free-form, disjointed. Phillips was no longer restrained in his innovative
use of the guitar and the sitar, and was even self-indulgent in his display
of his three-octave vocal range. Orchestral arrangements by Paul Buckmaster
enhanced the magic. The impressionistic power of
Steel Eyes, The Ballad Of Casey Deiss
Song For Sagittarians and She Was Waitin' For Her Mother
Buckmaster also helped out on Collaboration (1971), the last of the
great Phillips trilogy.
Faces (1972) collected unreleased tracks from 1969.
Bright White (1973) introduced a new, well-structured sound, with
easier rhythms and more regular phrasing, centered on the melody and heavily
arranged (Planned "O", Lasting Peace Of Mind,
Lady Of The Blue Rose). Buckmaster's influence was evident, and remained
on Furthermore (1974).
By the time Do You Wonder (1975) came out,
Phillips had run out of inspiration.
Surprisingly, Rumplestiltskin's Resolve (1976) returned him to a more
experimental style, in particular the ten-minute Today and the
seven-minute Rumplestiltskin's Resolve.
But these pieces were the epitome of his artistic crisis: ambitious but not
adequately supported by a vision. This imbalance peaked with
the 16-minute I Don't Want To Leave You on Spaced (1977).
Phillips even tried a symphony orchestra and a jazz ensemble for
Transcendence (RCA, 1978).
Beyond Here Be Dragons (1988) was mainly
honed by Michael Hoenig's synthesizers.
After a long hiatus, Phillips returned with The Truth If It Kills (1994).
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