Album: Grant-Lee Phillips

Virginia Creeper, Cooking Vinyl
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Grant-Lee Phillips's follow-up to 2001's Mobilize offers few surprises for those familiar with his strain of rootsy Americana. The opener, "Mona Lisa", sets the tone, with warm, whiskery textures of accordion, fiddle and guitar as the backdrop for Phillips' croon about a girl. Women feature prominently, from the enchantment of "a piratey soul/ Full a' vinegar and glitter" that is "Lily-A-Passion" and the shameless "Calamity Jane" bent on undermining reputations, to the hapless Indian girl in the plaintive piano ballad "Susanna Little", her father slain for oilmen's expediency, who strikes oil on the land she inherits. Most mysterious of all is "Josephine of the Swamps", a tribute to a mythical swamp queen picked out on mandolin, fiddle and banjo, and stuffed with bucolic imagery of herons, crocodiles, mangroves and "black delta peat". "Waking Memory" covers similar territory, with pedal-steel guitar and vibes illuminating a rural reverie haunted by "some new plague in the making". Elsewhere, Phillips turns his attention to the fallibility of relationships, contemplating the fragile nature of friendship in "Always Friends" and consoling a potential suicide in "Dirty Secret": "Here's a little secret, love/ Everybody comes undone." It's all tastefully done, with warmth and empathy, but there's ultimately little to distinguish Virginia Creeper from many albums.