On "Don't Do Anything," Phillips delivers another top-notch collection of consummate pop. There's no flash, no pomp. She sings in a hushed voice that invites intimacy and reflection. The songs for the most part are short in length, but pop with cherry bombs of clarity. Phillips expresses melancholic heartbreak, assertive confidence, spiritual questing. Some of the tunes have bouncy gaits, while others have smudgy sonics that evoke turbulent inner weather. Of particular note are the buoyant "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us" (a tribute to iconic gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe) and the longingly sad waltz "Signal."
Typical for all her releases, brevity is foremost. The 12-song "Don't Do Anything" clocks in at a tad more than 35 minutes.
"I can't help it," Phillips said. "Maybe it's my own attention span. But really, I don't want to wear people out with stuff that goes on too long. Plus. I get worn out by confessional writing. Just because you feel something doesn't mean you have to put it into a song." She told me a couple of years ago, "I grew up with the Beatles and I loved the way they got to the point in a song. So many records make me tired because they go on for so long. I guess I'm into the old show biz idea of leaving the audience wanting more."
So, in the end, was producing her own album for the first time a daunting experience? "It was hard to sing and play and then cut live tracks at the same time," Phillips said. "I wasn't sure sometimes if we got a good performance, especially when we brought the string quartet in. But we got lucky."
Even so, not everything ran smoothly. At first the title track was a disaster, she says. So she and Bellerose ran the tape again and took a different tack. "I decided to play electric guitar instead of acoustic, then Eric brought in a string arrangement," she said. "I'm proud of what we came up with, especially from where we started. So, there were bumps, but I've watched T Bone for a long time and learned a lot."
Phillips laughed, then added, "It was like a graduation. T Bone listened to what we did and said he liked it."
So, he gave it his seal of approval?
"Oh, yes," she said.
While the two experienced their share of heartbreak and anger, Phillips believes healing is coming.
"It's actually been quite miraculous," she said. "We were able to get really mad at each other and express a lot of hurt feelings. We got it out of our systems." She laughs and notes that Burnett brought "Sister Rosetta" into the Alison Krauss-Robert Plant hit session "Raising Sand" that he produced (and is currently touring with as the guitarist). "T Bone pitched the song to them, which is not the typical thing an ex would do."
If the end of a marriage weren't enough, Phillips also had to say goodbye to "The Gilmore Girls," the WB and then CW television series about a single mother raising a daughter that for seven years she had provided the acoustic guitar-derived musical interludes to. "You think 35 minutes is short," she says. "For 'Gilmore Girls,' I was contributing 10 and 20 seconds of music to picture. There I had been writing music that had verses, a chorus and a middle section for all these years and what was required were snippets. That was a challenge."