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Sam Phillips: A Warm Embrace, Or A Chokehold

Sam Phillips' loyalties in the war between dreamy romanticism and bitter pessimism seem to always be in question, so it's hard to know what to make of the title track to her latest album. "Don't Do Anything" could be a declaration of unconditional devotion — the kind that doesn't require any gestures to satisfy the singer's drive to know that a love is true. On the other hand, it could be a withering putdown of a lover who ruins the illusion of happiness with everything he does, no matter how slight.

Both interpretations are nestled within Phillips' voice, which wraps around the lyric in a way that could either be a warm embrace or a smothering chokehold. The ambiguity is shored up by a guitar that sounds so overdriven that it's burning in the red and tearing right through the tape it's recorded on, while a nearly subliminal kick drum evokes a heart beating just a hair too fast. "When you don't move, when you don't try, when you don't say anything," Phillips sings about the moments that move her heart. It's to her credit that you don't quite know whether it's full to bursting or long since broken.

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Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.