Grant Lee Phillips tries to find some sense in a world turned upside down
Given that life is getting back to something like normality, one would expect the wave of so-called “lockdown” albums to gradually subside but as the tide recedes, Grant Lee Phillips washes ashore with his pandemic home recordings. And while ‘All That You Dream’ doesn’t directly address the virus for the most part, the album certainly seems alive to the uncertainties of recent times with particular focus on what has passed for U.S. politics over the past few years.
It’s likely that most attention will be focussed on a brace of songs which address or relate to the invasion of The Capitol on January 6th. ‘Peace Is A Delicate Thing’ opens with, “Wolves in the chamber, rage in their eyes” as Phillips and his remotely recorded cohorts lay down a fragile and quite mournful backing, the song delivered at a halting pace. The line, “We’re all walking a razor’s edge tonight” just about nails the peril that the nation was in. Later on, that January day is mentioned again on ‘Rats In A Barrel’, a sturdier folk blues number which strives to understand the mind set of those who were conned, “believing in what some liar has said.” ‘Cut To The Ending’ fast forwards to current times and the ongoing menace posed by those who still insist that the election was stolen with Phillips singing of spineless enablers in a house of cards who must not talk of treason. Finally, ‘My Eyes Have Seen’, surely a nod to the Battle Hymn Of The Republic, avoids any mention of the glory of the Lord as Phillips finds his gaze transfixed and horrified by images of the treatment of refugees and the idea of raising a razor wire around the country. The song is dominated by piano and a gradual build up of martial drums on what is a powerful listen, especially on the grand instrumental coda.
Woven throughout these pointed numbers, Phillips, who recorded most of the music at his home before calling in bass, drum and pedal steel parts from various buddies, turns in a bunch of sublime sounding songs. ‘A Sudden Place’ looks at the vagaries of fate and opens with Phillips referring to those little cellophane fishes one gets in Christmas crackers before going on to mention the fire in Notre Dame. ‘Cruel Trick’, a darker song with Beatleish elements embedded within it is Phillips’ capture of lockdown. With no gigs, his guitar is parked in its case while family outings in the car find him driving through empty streets with closed shops and cinemas all around. ‘Cannot Trust The Ground’ tentatively welcomes a new normal and there’s space even for a light-footed love song of sorts on the nimble ‘Remember This’.
‘All That You Can Dream’ might be an album which is delicately delivered with Phillips’ voice quite honeyed on the ears but within it there is anger, frustration and a great deal of perplexion.