After being based in various California locations (Stockton, San Francisco and L.A.) for many years, singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips moved to Nashville in 2013. He released eight full-albums before the move and now we have his first The Narrows (Yep Roc) from his time in Tennessee.
From his press release:
“This set of songs,” Phillips observes, “seem to pivot between the personal and historical – like a lens, focusing in and out. The Creek and the Cherokee, of which I’m descendent, called this land home before the removal. I’m captivated by the stories and the energy here.”
“It held the promise of a quieter life,” he says, “something resembling my own rural upbringing in the San Joaquin Valley. And the people of the mid-south reminded me of home – my dad being from Arkansas, my mom from Oklahoma. And the soundtrack of my boyhood was so often tethered to Nashville…”
As well as his new, invigorating surroundings, The Narrows brings with it reflections on parenthood and the death of his father.
In the thirteen songs here, there’s plenty of deep subject matter into which to get your teeth. Plus, you have this hypnotic, looping guitar picking pattern and Phillips’ smooth vocals that sets it apart. In a strange sort of way, the album gets better through the collection. I am not sure whether that is due to the strongest songs back-ending The Narrows, or whether it is the cumulative effect of the journey through these tracks that makes them more powerful.
‘Find My Way’, the album closer (I know, I starting from the end this time), has that slow, smooth ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ feel. It’s a magnificently weary tale both of desperation and hope – despair about separation and hope for the return to the arms and comfort of a loved one. It’s a tour de force.
‘San Andreas Fault’ tells of his views of California and the devastating big earthquake that is yet to hit the Golden State – his vocals are stretched and dripping with emotion. Another relocation story leads off The Narrows – ‘Tennessee Rain’ which is a engaging country rocker about his new home. ‘Mocassin Creek’ is a song that has plenty of space in its arrangements, reflecting his respect for Arkansas near his family home and, specifically, a part of the nearby river called The Narrows. The pitter patter rolling ‘Cry Cry’ is an elegant narrative about lost homes and culture.
The production and arrangements have a pin-point touch. Phillips had access to Dan Auerbach‘s (of The Black Sorrows) studio (Easy Eye) and collection of vintage recording equipment and the album has a beautiful warm, traditional sound to it.
The Narrows is an ardent and personal collection, straight from the heart of a craftsman. This should be the record to take Grant-Lee Phillips‘ name and music to many more fans of authentic and A-grade songwriting.