Sam Phillips

By Peter Hemminger

Working at a photo lab, you gain an appreciation for the more ancient photographs that come your way. Sometimes you come across the crisp portraits, and marvel at the thought of someone sitting perfectly still for the minutes or hours the antique technology required for a decent exposure. Other times it’s the candid photograph. No one in the photo is remotely close to the center, no one’s remotely conscious they’re being put onto film.

Most of the time, the pictures lack the essential details. Faces are washed out, stains and tears obscure the setting, grain turns the backdrop into a mesh of seemingly unrelated shades. Everything that’s typically espoused as a necessary element of quality photography has either faded away, or just wasn’t there to begin with.

Somehow there’s a purity to these pictures missing from digital photographs. Cameras were expensive and time consuming. Every picture had to count. Even though the pictures may appear unclear, what they document is not: people trying to capture a moment to make it immortal.

Sam Phillips makes every moment of a boot and a shoe count. Eight of the songs clock in under two and a half minutes, and only one cracks the four minute mark. Compared to Phillips’ previous psychedelic albums and synthesizer experiments, the instrumentation is especially sparse. Most tracks don’t feature more than Phillips’ acoustic guitar, a handful of strings, and Carla Azar’s wonderfully homemade sounding drums, whose clatter serves as the heartbeat of the album.

Phillips’ lyrics, like the music behind them, never reveal more than needed. Most tracks seem to revolve around love and sex, but neither of those words come up very often. Instead, Phillips sketches situations and leaves the details up to the listener.

When on “Open the World” she admits “he put something in my drink that made me want to say yes,” it’s unclear whether she ever really wanted to say no. Phillips even admits to her enigmatic nature on the opening track, admitting “when no one’s listening I have so much to say.”

a boot and a shoe chooses its moments with care, favoring subtlety over instant gratification. After listening to too many albums trading subtlety for sheen, it’s the kind of album you really gain an appreciation for.

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