It's the music crammed into the glove compartment of a borrowed car. It's the soundtrack to writing checks for pizza deliveries. It's guitar-based, hook-injected pop with frequently cynical, often acerbic, always self-involved lyrics -- unless the lyrics are so murky and abstract one can only assume they're cynical, acerbic, and self-involved. It's REM, the Smiths, Violent Femmes, Hoodoo Gurus, Robyn Hitchcock, and any band fronted by David Lowery or Evan Dando. It is, of course, college rock, and Grant-Lee Phillips never missed a day of class.
The thirty-song, two-disc Storm Hymnal, a retrospective of Phillips' band Grant Lee Buffalo, operates as a multi-yearbook from the days when being drunk and penniless didn't seem like such a bad thing. The two discs combine to provide GLB's best known songs -- "Truly, Truly," "Mockingbirds," the falsettoed "Fuzzy," and "Jupiter and Teardrop" (a nearly note-by-note acquisition of the Bowie-inspired "I'm Coming Home" from the Rocky Horror soundtrack) -- from the band's four albums, as well as B-sides, rarities, and acoustic-only versions of core material like "Halloween," the maudlin (You were only 23/You were restless as the sea) tribute to honorary college rocker River Phoenix.
With Virginia Creeper, his third solo album since GLB's dissolution, Phillips has graduated into Americana; the disc-closing cover of Gram Parsons' classic "Hickory Wind" clearly shows the way. Influences are more focused. Arrangements (though accessorized by the occasional viola, violin, cello, dobro, mandolin, and pedal steel) are more sparse. Songs are less moody, less insular. And as more determined troubadours before him, the country -- with references to Delta peat and mangrove trees, southern Blue Bell cream and Johnny Appleseed -- is now Phillips' canvas.
While there's nothing wrong with college rock, for most (like Grant Lee Buffalo), it's now past history. And though Virginia Creeper isn't as much fun as sleeping in during a Thursday Econ class, it doesn't squint at the light of inspection. It's mature by comparison. It's what you're supposed to do.
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