A six-song EP, available for free download now, offers listeners a glimpse into the forthcoming solo project by Grant Lee Phillips called Walking in the Green Corn.
Due October 11, 2012, the new full-length album draws upon Phillips’ Native American heritage as a Muskogee Creek Nation tribal member — even as it deftly recalls the interior atmospheres and folky grace of 2009′s Little Moon, the former Grant Lee Buffalo frontman’s most recent solo project.
As homespun, and as personal, as the forthcoming record promises to be, this new sampler — available through NoiseTrade — is somehow even homier. Recording at McCabe’s, a Santa Monica, California haunt, with only bassist Kimon Kirk and pianist Jebon Bruni, Phillips eases his way through five live tracks to go with one studio effort, “Thunderbird.” I loved their emotional sweep.
“Fools Gold,” a song about dashed hopes, is so hushed, so quietly confidential, that it’s almost terrifying – like stumbling over someone’s diary, and learning about trouble deeper than you’d ever imagined. “The Straighten Outer” finds Phillips unwinding like a rattlesnake, with a slow, perceptive menace, while “Bound to this World” combines the two impulses: sounding at once fragile, but resilient, and maybe a little pissed, too.
With “Buffalo Hearts,” Phillips assumes the devastated and knowing whisper of Bruce Springsteen in his later years, and the instrumentation follows a similar template. Then, Phillips takes his vocal into the upper reaches of his range, outside of the hush, and “Buffalo Hearts” takes on a heartbreaking specificity.
“Walking the Green,” the final live cut on the NoiseTrade sampler, has its own strange beauty, too. There is a stoicism to it, a hardened sense of purpose as Phillips recounts the customary Green Corn Dance held by southeastern tribes including the Creek, but you can almost feel the sunrise coming, a lightening on the horizon. By the end, Phillips has begun to let loose, and these wordless declamations point – at long last – toward that new day.
“Thunderbird,” the lone studio cut on this new sampler, makes good on that sense of growing hopefulness. Though Phillips is again featured in the sparest of settings, with just his guitar, Phillips sounds up close, and completely, utterly, ass over teakettle in love.