Nonesuch, America’s premier record label for modern music (Kronos Quartet, Steve Reich), has recently become a place where high-minded pop artists can make mid-career course corrections. Emmylou Harris found a sympathetic outlet for her burgeoning Gothic-country tendencies, and the label let Duncan Shiek disguise his pretty-boy image with Leonard Cohen’s art-song mantle. Even Stephen Merritt, underground’s answer to Cole Porter, was recently signed, and alt-country gods Wilco plan to release their long-awaited “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” on Nonesuch.
It’s the perfect place for Sam Phillips to regain her footing. After six years as a draw on the Christian rock circuit and then three flawless albums of secular, personal, baroque pop, the California singer-songwriter seemed spent. On her last album, the comparatively experimental “Omnipop” (1996), Phillips and her husband-producer T-Bone Burnett (responsible for the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack) were no longer working from instinct and inspiration.
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