"This is bigger than you, or the part of the truth you trust/ This is the breaking up." —from "No Explanation"
There's always a temptation for people to turn art into autobiography. When a songwriter pens a tune about love lost, we assume it's the songwriter who has lost love, rather than the perspective of someone else close to the writer (or someone fictional). When songwriters allude to a crisis of faith, we figure it's their own faith that has been shaken. When grief is the subject of a song, our natural inclination is to think it's borne out of a very specific period of grief in the artist's own life. And, of course, such assumptions are sometimes correct. Art is always going to be personal on some level, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for imagination in the creative process alongside experience.
Still, there are probably some experiences you just can't write about until you've been through it yourself. As much as there is to be said for writing in character, there's no mistaking the power and sharp edges of Sam Phillips' latest album, Don't Do Anything—an album so candid, so frightening in its honesty, it couldn't have been made from anything but real life. And anyone who heard Phillips' previous album, 2004's masterful A Boot and a Shoe, knows just what her life has been like over the past few years. With its open-vein lyrics about betrayal and heartache, its weary humor and its weathered testaments to faith and hope in the darkest of hours, that album was unmistakably the product of the breakdown of Phillips' marriage to producer T-Bone Burnett. Call it her Blood on the Tracks if you want, but in truth, it's an album so personal that it's hardly an archetypal break-up album. It's an album only Sam ...1