One of my favorite things about singer/songwriter Sam Phillips is that she always finds creative ways to keep things interesting, both with her music and with the delivery of it. We haven’t had an official full-length release from her since 2008’s Don’t Do Anything, but that’s mainly because she was busy flooding her fans’ ears directly with multiple EPs via her Long Play subscription service.
Now, with Push Any Button, Phillips changes direction completely, opting in favor of a short, sweet, upbeat pop album. Not in the vein of today’s electro bubble-gum pop (could you even imagine Phillips doing such a thing?) but more along the lines of vintage ‘60s and ‘70s pop. And the thing is, she’s completely believable in it.
So we’re clear, this is not (another) reinvention of Sam Phillips (like when she left behind her high-register vocals and contemporary Christian vibe under the “Leslie Phillips” moniker in the mid-1980s). Fans will instantly recognize her signature understated vocal quality and percussion-heavy, lo-fi acoustic sound on this album, no doubt the remnant influences of ex-spouse T-Bone Burnett. But the overall lighter tone of the songs, coupled with strategic vintage guitar effects, strings and horns, help to color the sound with nostalgia in a way that’s delightful and endearing. Think She & Him, only a little rougher around the edges, and with a little more twang.
When I say “short, sweet and upbeat,” that’s exactly what I mean. Ten songs with a total run time of under 30 minutes—but those ten songs pack a punch. Kicking off with the bouncy “Pretty Time Bomb” and continuing with the foot-stomping to-and-fro chord progression of “All Over Me” (punctuated with some of those tasty horns I mentioned), Push Any Button lives up to its name in the sense that you’re going to get something fresh and different no matter which track you happen to select. Other key moments of the record for me include “See You In Dreams,” one of the album’s few melancholy moments (and the longest track on the record at four-and-a-half minutes), the more rock-oriented “Things I Shouldn’t Have Told You,” and “You Know I Won’t,” which is just as vintage in style but ventures more into country/rockabilly.
In the scope of Sam Phillips whole discography, Push Any Button isn’t likely to carry the same kind of weight with fans as Martinis and Bikinis, or perhaps even Don’t Do Anything. But it’s a great change of pace that’s fun to listen to, and it gives us a glimpse into a side of Phillips we don’t often see. As for me—I’m into any music that makes me smile. And this does.