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Rhythm & Views

Grant Lee Phillips

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After putting Grant Lee Buffalo out to pasture, Grant Lee Phillips migrated toward a career as a singer/songwriter. His online-only album, Ladies' Love Oracle, and his Zoe/Rounder debut, Mobilize, basked in praise. Virginia Creeper is no different. Indeed, the Buffalo Soldier hits the artistic bulls-eye with each song, clearly at home with his favorite subject: spectral women. Like the skulking voice in Walt Whitman's "The Sleeper," Phillips tip-toes into these ghosts' rooms. He praises, cautions, scolds them. He confesses to them, kisses their feet. He does everything short of love them, knowing their sexual powers would incinerate his heart.

As X-rays penetrate Da Vinci's 500-year-old painting in order to determine the cause of its warping, Phillips swoops in, reminding us who will prevail. ("You're the last of your kind, Mona Lisa / With a wink of your eye / You make it all right.") "Lily-A-Passion," a pulse-pounding tale of "a piratey soul full of vinegar and glitter," bustles along, with Eric Gorfain's violin leading the charge. "Calamity Jane" looks back in admiration at a woman (last name: Fonda) unafraid to confront the War Machine. The album's centerpiece is "Susanna Little," an epic narrative in which an Indian girl grows up under so-called "Christian" values.

There have been many awesome male-female singing pairs: Gram and Emmylou, Richard and Linda Thompson, Scott Bondy and Anne Marie Griffin. With Creeper, you can add Phillips and Cindy Wasserman. Their voices meld perfectly, recalling a world we've all dreamed of, in which men and women finally understand each other and stand by each other, even in the afterlife.

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