Brian Douglas Phillips spends his spare time in antique shops, shuffling through bins of old photographs. Some find their way to wall frames or bookshelves, while others rest safe in a cardboard box. They’re treasures to the Texas songsmith – they’re inspiration.
And BULLETS & BONES is the direct result.
On his first full-length record, Phillips speaks for the anonymous faces in his collection, taking listeners on a journey through the heart of America to front porches, dim-lit bars and tent revivals. He paints portraits of guarded ramblers, estranged fathers, holy rollers and those paralyzed by the stasis of life. “This one is all about narrative,” Phillips said. “I wanted to explore characters, scars and bruises from the past, in my family especially, and see how those things still resonate with us now. Some things time can’t heal … those are the things I chased on this record.”
Phillips arranges BULLETS & BONES meticulously, moving the listener through a series of landscapes and moods: some lush and dynamic, some lonesome – desolate. He treads lightly through delicate ballads and lullabies, saving the thunder-like percussion and heavy-handed piano for a brilliant few rock-n-roll moments. The record is a rich and diverse play on Americana – a little folk, a little twang, and enough gospel to keep it unique.
Weary of traditional studios, Phillips produced and engineered BULLETS & BONES independently with the help of his brother and a small number of friends. In the spring of 2007, they tracked and mixed in a handful of living rooms in College Station and Waco, Texas, with sessions often separated by weeks at a time. “This was a long process,” Phillips said. “Longer than I had expected. But I’m glad we took our time. Everything came out so organic and honest, and I’m more at peace with this record than with anything I’ve done in the past.”
BULLETS & BONES makes great leaps thematically and stylistically from 2005’s The Storms Inside, though it’s not difficult to trace the path from one to the next. STORMS’ pensive self-awareness held hints of characterization, but now Phillips masters his roles, transforming himself into aged women and lonesome spirits. And STORMS’ cool ambience and country shuffle has given way to the rollick and soul of a mid-century backwoods church. There’s a sense of fiction to it, but it’s real and frightening all the same. The sparkle of BULLETS & BONES is in that warm distance, in the past-but-poignant stories it tells.