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Live review: Sam Phillips' afternoon performance at the Hotel Cafe

April 30, 2010 | 10:37 am

Singer and songwriter Sam Phillips performed one of the periodic afternoon showcases Thursday at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, sharing with several dozen invitees a few new songs she’s been working on as part of her yearlong “Long Play” art and music installation project on her website, plus a few gems from her considerable catalog.

She brought along violinist-guitarist-banjoist Eric Gorfain, bassist Jennifer Condos and percussionist extraordinaire Jay Bellerose, all of whom partnered with her imaginatively in this quick run through her distinctive brand of back-alley-cabaret pop.

The compact 30-minute set opened with “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us,” her song that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss covered on their runaway hit album “Raising Sand.” Typical of her surgically impeccable lyric writing, she ropes in big ideas with a minimum of words, this one about the search for solace when despair beckons:

Secrets are written in the sky
It looks like I’ve lost the love I’ve never found
Though the sound of hope has left me again
I hear music up above

Bellerose approached his vintage patchwork drum kit like a painter dabbing colors sparingly on a canvas, while Condos complemented the low-end rhythms instinctively, and Gorfain spun mournful lines from his Stroh violin (which has a gramophone-like horn coming off the instrument’s sound hole). 

“Was It All In My Head?,” an ode to second-guessing oneself, has been kicking around since 2004 but only recently was given a studio recording and is being offered as a free download on her website. In another new tune, she celebrates the notion that to err truly is human, beckoning to a partner, “Take your mistakes and come with me.”

Not surprisingly, she included “Reflecting Light,” the track from her 2004 album “A Boot and a Shoe” that her ex-husband, T Bone Burnett, included in the sleeper hit film “Crazy Heart.” And she closed with “One Day Late” — with its curiously comforting refrain “help is coming ... one day late” — which she dedicated affectionately to the hapless 2010 Dodgers.

A full profile of Phillips and her “Long Play” project will be coming in Calendar in the days ahead.

--Randy Lewis

Photo: Sam Phillips. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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