Michelle Phillips: Victim of Romance

1977 solo album provided Phillips a fetching turn in the spotlight

Upon the 1970 dissolution of the Mamas and Papas, three of the four members carved out solo careers, while Michelle Phillips departed the music world for a career as an actress. Five years later she edged back into the studio with the singles “Aloha Louie” and “No Love Today,” and in 1977 released this album, with production and arrangements by Jack Nitzsche, and backing from some of Los Angeles’ finest studio players. Singing material by Moon Martin, Alan Gordon, John Phillips, the Bee Gees, Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle, as well as a pair of originals, she sounds surprisingly self-assured and effortless for someone who’d mostly been away from the microphone for the previous seven years. Her reported lack of confidence in her solo voice proved unfounded as she showed off a command of a spotlight that was previously diffused by her talented groupmates.

Martin’s opening “Aching Kind” has a dreamy ‘70s feel, with Phillips’ double-tracked vocal gliding thoughtfully along the song’s self-reflective sorrow. Nitzsche gave her the full Crystals’ treatment, complete with Steve Douglas sax solo, for Martin’s title track, and added Drifters-styled triangle, castanets, strings and a baion beat to Phillips’ Mexicali-tinged “There She Goes.” There’s a ‘50s R&B feel to Martin’s “Paid the Price,” but with guitars that bring the song into the ‘70s, and both “Trashy Rumors” and “Woman of Fantasy” have a modern, jazzy edge. Among the album’s surprises is a reggae-tinged cover of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” that predates\d Linda Ronstadt’s single, and closing out the original set is Scott Matthews & Ron Nagle’s sleepy “Where’s Mine.”

Real Gone’s 2018 reissue adds three session outtakes as bonuses, including Phillips’ original “Guerita,” the New Orleans-styled funk “Practice What You Preach,” and a second Bee Gees cover, “Had a Lot of Love Last Night.” Together with the ten album tracks, this collects all of the finished material from the Nitzsche sessions. The CD’s booklet adds new liner notes by Joe Marchese with a fresh interview with Phillips. At album length, Phillips showed how easily she could slip into a variety of styles without surrendering her Laurel Canyon roots. Following this album, she sang backup on a few projects, and recorded “Forever” for the California Dreaming soundtrack, but that was basically it. Phillips returned to acting, leaving this album as her sole full-length statement as a musical artist; a statement that will leave fans wishing there had been more. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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