Musical Friday: Featured Artist

Time again for another musical Friday post. This week I’m mixing it up a little and instead of selecting a musical melange, I’m going to take a more in depth look at a single artist. This week’s featured artist is Grant Lee Phillips, both his solo work and the work of his band, Grant Lee Buffalo. In my opinion GLB and Grant Lee Phillips are among the most underrated artists of my generation and will hopefully someday receive the recognition they deserve. Amazingly talented, with songs of incredible depth and substance, each one of which reaches out and grabs you and demands your attention.

Grant Lee has so many great songs that it’s hard to select the best ones for an overview, but I’m going to start with a few from the GLB album Mighty Joe Moon (1994) because its debut came at a seminal point in my life and influenced me enormously. I listened to the CD endlessly, and I memorized every word of every song. As is typical of Grant’s work, it felt like every song was speaking on my behalf, saying something about me and my life and what I was going through at the time.

The song It’s the Life is a great example of GLB’s style: melodic and somewhat melancholy, with Grant’s impressive vocals over a simple guitar melody, featuring extremely powerful lyrics. I think it’s worth copying some of the lyrics here, to show what I mean about the poetry of his songwriting.

If the life you have created
Has buried you with luxuries, out-dated
And you ask what is the purpose
Too weak to claw your way up to the surface

You resent all of your trophies
They belittle human spirit like a timepiece
That is ticking in your breast pocket
And so you long to reach in and stop it

And then your heart, it will be broken
And every sour word that you have spoken
About everybody else
Will return to act upon yourself

If the life you have created
Is founded on jealousy and hatred
It’s too late to ask questions
For you’re much too old to take any suggestions

I would love to post every song from the Mighty Joe Moon album, they’re all fantastic. I highly recommend listening to the entire thing. But here’s another of the more melancholy and somber songs from it, ironically titled Happiness (if you find, share it with the rest of us).

Here’s the title track and probably the best song from GLB’s 1993 debut album, Fuzzy. I can relate. How often do I feel fuzzy, too?

Jubilee was GLB’s final album in 1998 before Grant Lee Phillips went off on his own and made some solo albums. It’s another fantastic album and there’s not a bad track on it. The song Seconds is a good one, and shows that they’re not always downbeat and melancholy.

The song Truly, Truly received some considerable airplay in 1998, and here is GLB performing it live on Letterman that year.

By far my favorite track of the Jubilee album is Sanctuary.  By combining a beautiful melody with poetic lyrics and showcasing Grant’s vocal range, it really stands out in my opinion as the best example of GLB at their finest.

After going solo, Grant recorded an album called nineteeneighties on which he performed acoustic solo covers his favorite songs of the 80’s, most of which are also my favorite songs of the 80’s.  Here’s one of the great ones, his cover of REM’s So. Central Rain (I’m sorry).

And here he is doing The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry.

Grant Lee was born and raised in California, but is an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation of Oklahoma, and has Oklahoma Native roots on both sides of his family. His songs often touch on themes of Americana, and in recent years he has increasingly embraced his Native heritage. His 2012 album Walking in the Green Corn is an introspective examination of Phillips’ Creek heritage. The Green Corn Ceremony is the most important tradition of the Creek and Seminole and other Southeastern tribes, during which they celebrate the harvest and prepare for a new year. Here Grant performs a live version of the title track, and I can’t get over how much he looks like my cousin (shout out to Jeff Prettyman, what’s up, Cousin? Keep practicing that guitar and some day I’ll feature you on my Friday Music post!).

I’m going to try again to save the best for last. A lot of people have tried to cover The Beatles over the years, and it’s not as easy as you might think to do justice to the Fab Four. But I think Grant Lee does a pretty damned good job here on Here Comes the Sun. It’s pretty rare that I like a cover better than the original, but I think I almost prefer this to the version by the lads from Liverpool, which I know is probably musical blasphemy.

Until next week, happy listening!

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