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Shawn Phillips Shawn Phillips
Album: Transcendence
Label: Talking Elephant
Tracks: 9

Shawn Phillips - somewhat maverick singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of phenomenal talent and cult status - has remained an enigma of uncategorisable nature for the past 45 years. I've enjoyed some of his music enormously, found some of it challenging and exciting, and yet found other of his albums unaccountably bland and uninvolving or else impossible to get into.

The good guys at Talking Elephant doggedly continue their programme of Shawn Phillips reissues now with an album dating back to what many see as a career-high, the late 1970s - 1978, to be exact, although for some unaccountable reason this information is completely absent from the package. What can there be to be ashamed of? For it's a strong set, a stylish classical-oriented AOR opus with plenty of accomplished writing and playing, fulsome and capable orchestral arrangements.

Naturally, it's dated, in the good prog-rock sense, and some of its gestures might now seem overblown, but Shawn's vision is consistent and often more fascinatingly all-embracing than he's given credit for. There's much contrast here, with outright rock (I'm An American Child) set unashamedly alongside affectionate country-tinged romancer Good Evening Madam, massive orchestral driving funk (Julia's Letters), classical pretensions that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Future-Passed Moodies (the beautiful, lush pastel of Implications), florid orchestral chanson (Lament Pour L'Enfant Mort) and delicate pastoral balladry (Lady In Violet): a slightly out-of-kilter mix perhaps, with vocals that can border on the histrionic at times yet remaining in control, staying just the right side of pomp. Charming, and not a little frightening.

Transcendence is a curious artefact, in that it sounds both of its time and out of its time, and even listening to it today, more than a touch unearthly.

David Kidman