Grant Lee Phillips’ eighth solo album ‘The Narrows’ is a delightfully easy going listen; reflecting on hazy summers and country life. This record is a wonderful example of a singer songwriter deep in his niche, doing precisely what he does best, on these finely tuned tracks that talk directly to the humanity of us all.
The hopeful warmth to the cleansing waters of ‘Tennessee Rain kicks things off with an air of country tinged rock, reflecting Phillips’ California roots and new home of Nashville, whilst setting a comfortably familiar tone to the record. ‘Smoke and Sparks’ follows with an intimacy to the country style picking and a vocal reminiscent of Nebraska era Springsteen that gains depth from the clean touches of piano.
Phillips’ brand of country tinged Americana is real easy on the ear, as we are treated to an array of instruments offering a deeply textured canvas to these tales of life. There’s the lilting violin intro to the reflective slice of down home nostalgia of ‘Moccasin Creek’ that’s filled with a yearning we can all relate to. Then there’s the banjo riff underpinning the electric down home bar filler of ‘Rolling Pin and the rich pedal steel of ‘Taking on Weight in Hot Springs’, which muses on the pace of country life “Moving slower than molasses”.
The theme of life in the country underscores the album; recurring in ‘Just Another River Town’, which has “seen its share of life go down” and borrows heavily from country music traditions while avoiding cliché and keeping that laid back warmth. The shuffling rhythms of ‘Loaded Gun’ provide a little contrast though, as it goes “Flyin’, down the back roads” in a flurry of foot taps and hand claps.
‘Cry Cry’ offers up subtly rolling rhythms and an understated soothing vocal that really captures the comfortable feel to this album, which is also evident on the lovely guitar sound of the easy balladry of ‘Holy Irons’. Phillips’ ability to paint a vivid picture is at its finest on the sweltering ‘No Mercy In July’, which shuffles easily through its summer heat of sleepless nights and stifling days – “Shade’s no shelter on days like these”.
To be honest, there is not a bad track on the album, even the fairly predictable lovelorn lament of ‘Find My Way’ succeeds in sounding honest. In fact, the overall feel is so pleasant that it would be difficult to pick a winner. Besides those already mentioned, the reflective ‘Yellow Weeds’ adds a dash of melancholy and ‘San Andreas Fault’, which looks back on life in the shadow of the California fault line, finds Phillips stretching his voice with an emotional performance.
All in all, ‘The Narrows’ shows Grant Lee Phillips at his thoughtful best and is a fine example of good old fashioned quality songwriting. Ok, it’s not exactly innovative, but it’s a thoroughly likeable record of remarkable warmth – grab a beer, sit in your favourite chair and settle into its richly comfortable vibe.
Find out more at GLP’s official site:http://www.grantleephillips.com/