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When Sam Phillips last toured, she sang a memorable refrain about heartbreak: "When you're down / You find out what's down there."

Phillips's new album, Don't Do Anything (4 stars) (Nonesuch), is like a travelogue of what she found down there. Concocting an intimate chemistry of guitars, violins, and rowdy percussion, she draws poetry from betrayal, regrets, and life in Hollywood, where she's witnessed so many wrecked dreams. But throughout these passionate songs, she points listeners toward hope—a river of love that's flowing "under the night."

The title track is a half-whispered declaration of love that persists in times of despair. "It's a pretty radical statement," Phillips tells CT. "Everything is so performance oriented in our society that it's easy to lose sight of grace and love." The album concludes with "Watching Out of This World," a soaring anthem that affirms "the splendor / the holiness of life / that reveals itself."

But the project's crowning glory is "Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us," a tribute to gospel legend Rosetta Tharpe. Allison Krauss and Robert Plant covered it with quiet grace on their excellent collaboration, Raising Sand, but Phillips's performance captures Tharpe's zeal.

Beginning as Christian rocker Leslie Phillips in the 1980s, Sam rose from the CCM industry to critical acclaim, roles in feature films, and guitar strumming for television's Gilmore Girls.

Don't Do Anything marks a new chapter in Phillips's career. It's her first project since her 2004 divorce from T-Bone Burnett, who had produced all of her albums till now. Here, Phillips adds production duties to singing and playing piano and guitar—and she does a fine job at the controls.

Phillips can be proud of her production. It's a ...

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July 2008

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