Dick’s Picks: An oft-overlooked slice of vintage U.S. singer-songwriterisms that takes a gentle stroll around folk, jazz, funk ‘n’ soul from the little-known Shawn Phillips…..
SHAWN PHILLIPS Rumplestiltskin’s Resolve
What is this strange beast we see before us? Is it a regular evening in round Rick Wakeman’s circa 1976? A Hawkwind after show meet ‘n’ greet? Or perhaps a still from that unreleased Ealing movie ‘Carry On Racial Stereotype’? Nope, it’s the tenth (yes, tenth!) long player from Shawn Phillips, a U.S. singer-songwriter and session player whose nimble way round a fretboard on both 12-string and sitar made him much in-demand with artists like Donovan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and others.
What’s the album like?
Well, if you were to judge the book by its cover then you might expect a sort of Incredible String Band with a dash of Steeleye Span type affair – but wait come back, take album opener ‘Early Morning Hours’, with its clipped guitars, whispered vocals and all-round hippie folkiness via Laurel Canyon vibe, stick around to the 1.30 mark however and in come the synths (yes synths) and lush piano runs – we weren’t expecting those….
Second track ‘Spiteful’ throws another sonic curveball – riding in on a super-tight low-slung groove with Phillips vocals channelling Terry Reid’s 1974 jazz/folk/soul opus ‘River’ (that’s no bad thing btw!)
It’s the ten-minute plus ‘Today’ that really does the business – the first couple of minutes of hushed, fragile, close-miked vocals with minimal accompaniment have a distinctly Nick Drake-esque feel, fast-forward to 1.45, and press the button marked ‘jazz fusion groove’ and you’re off – ten minutes of nimble fret-work with a section of vocal histrionics that comes on like the love-child of Cleo Laine and Tim Buckley – what, as they say, is not to like?
‘Wailing Wall’ does what it says on the cultural tin, an almost accapella lament with some decidedly eastern scale action going on.
‘Hie Away’ is something else altogether, if you’re expecting an earnest folk based traditional sea-shantie, think again – instead, underpinning its 5.21 duration is a tricksy uptempo groove that can’t quite decide whether to go the whole hog and sod off to the disco, the noodly guitars, tricky turn-arounds and synth solos just about keep its ‘glitter ‘n’ boob-tube’ in check.
Album closer ‘Rumplestiltskin’s Resolve’ finishes on a (possibly herbally assisted) high – and in what appears to be something of a trademark feature for Phillips, the first minute or so is a gently, evolving piece for piano and strings before finally letting rip with some nimble picking. Over the seven plus minutes it takes in more deft 12-string action than you can shake a stick at – delicate piano trills, multi-tracked vocal and some ever-so-slightly-skronky-oboe add the finishing touches – N-I-C-E!
After the album Shawn Phillips continued to record and play live, with a final studio album ‘Transcendence’ released in 1978. After living in South Africa for a number of years (his wife is South African), Phillips returned to the U.S. and now resides in Kentucky. Discogs shows that he’s still releasing music and should you want to know more you can check his website here
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