Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rock, Greatest Albums, Jesus Music > 104. The Indescribable Wow – Sam Phillips

104. The Indescribable Wow – Sam Phillips

THE INDESCRIBABLE WOW (1988)

Sam Phillips

Hmm, let’s see how this actually works.

Create an epically stunning final album for the CCM market. Check!

Perform an epically scandalous farewell performance at an amusement park. Check!

Marry your producer. Check!

Change name. Check!

Sign with a secular label and request Christian bookstores not carry the new album. Check!

Create an epically stunning debut album for the mainstream market. Check! Check! and Check!

After the scandalous farewell concert at Knott’s Berry Farm that saw a relatively scantily clad Leslie Phillips prance around on stage performing only songs from her most recent album (The Turning), and a crowd that dispersed quicker than if a fire alarm had been pulled, many wondered what had gotten into the beloved blonde princess of CCM.

I have always been of the opinion that it was not a matter of “something getting into” Phillips, but rather something finally able to get out. That night is forever etched in my memory, especially given that I was one of the few who stayed to the end. In fact, I had introduced her that night and spent some time with her and future husband T-Bone Burnett earlier that day. I kind of knew what to expect, but obviously the vast majority did not. A very good friend of mine was sitting in the back and can attest to the mass departure.

The band that night was pretty much T-Bone Burnett and the Alpha Band and I wasn’t going anywhere!

What was eventually to “come out” of Leslie Phillips was the artist that was always “in there.” She would be known as Sam Phillips, but she was there all the time. Even on the sickeningly sweet and over-produced pop album of the mid-80’s there were always touches of a brilliant and creative songwriter and performer. Her honesty even in those days made many uncomfortable, with one concert with Benny Hester during the “Black and White” tour where she admitted to having thoughts of attraction to a married man caused ripples in the crowd.

Honesty and vulnerability has never played well on the safe playground of CCM.

But with the freedom and relative anonymity of a new persona and the restrictions of a safe and restrictive CCM market behind her, Phillips would create a wonderful and glorious work of pop and passion. Vocally more subdued that at any time in her career, it is Phillips the singer and songwriter that shines through on this Burnett produced masterpiece.

Accompanied primarily by Burnett’s jangly guitar and some stunning string arrangements. Phillips works her way through ten marvelous and majestic songs. Primarily an album focused on the struggles of human love and loss, those common themes create uncommon results musically. Find a weak song, I dare you.

The rockers are fun and memorable, but it is the ballads that so engaging and haunting. Flame and it’s sexually Latin driven whispy musical approach just envelopes and consumes. It is a song that is inescapable. The beautiful string and vocal arrangement on “What Do I Do” never let go. Phillips voice is recorded over and over in self-harmony and echoing effect that acts like a whirlwind of clouds that just surround and lift the listener.

The 60’s influence abounds. “Holding On To The Earth” sounds like a soundtrack to a psychedelic trip while “She Can’t Tell Time” could have been written by Brian Wilson. The only song that sounds like “Leslie” is the pop rocker “What You Don’t Want to Hear.” It may be the music the old fans may want to hear, but maybe not the content.

Phillips appears more often on this list than any female artist outside of Julie Miller, both as Leslie and Sam. She remains one of the most influential and important artists in the genre and her place in history is secure. I can guarantee she will never grace the Halls of the Gospel Hall of Fame, but without her work many artists would still be held by the same binding restrictions she faced and overcame.

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  1. Greenchili
    March 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Nice to see this album. It was not till many years later that I had the priveledge of hearing this album.. As well as Sam’s work as Leslie of which I only heard “Dancing With Danger” and that duet song that got all the airplay.

    Anywho last I checked Sam is nice enough to include information related to all her releases (including lyrics) on her web site. For those interested in taking a peek.

  2. Shawn McLaughlin
    March 24, 2011 at 12:12 am

    And her subscription service is AWESOME. 5 EPs and a full length released in mp3 form as soon as she finished them. Similar but not the same as what Bill Mallonee does.

  3. Brett C
    March 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Having been a fan of Leslie’s previous two releases I looked forward with much anticipation for the release of “The Indescribable Wow”. Boy was I NOT disappointed. What a great album. Great songs, great production, I was in pop heaven at the time (and me the big Rocker 🙂 ). Ms. Phillips has much talent and it shows on this album. Of course it didn’t hurt haveing one of the best producers of all time behind the boards and on guitar (a highly underated guitarist is our T-Bone Burnett too; love his playing). Of course I am a big fan of “The Turning” too which I assume will appear much much higher on this list, but this album is great, and still an enjoyable listening experence to this day.

  4. TopekaRoy
    March 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    I remember seeing this album in a Christian bookstore called “The Tool Shed” (’cause Jesus was a carpenter, get it?) when it first came out, and being a bit confused. She kinda looked like Leslie Phillips, and the sound was similar but somehow different. I thought maybe Sam was her sister!

    I loved her “Christian market” albums ever since I first heard “Bring Me Through” on the “Back to the Rock” compilation, and I love this one as well. Until then she was always being compared to other singers. I find it ironic that in order to just be herself, she had to become somebody else!

  5. Don Lambirth
    April 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Nothing is great as “The Turning” though this album and “Martinis and Bikinis” came close. “Holding onto the Earth” and “Out of Time”are my favorites. I have had the priviledge of meeting her on two occasions. And had the best seat in the house at a show at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle during the “Martinis” Tour. I sat on the stage behind her right next to T Bone who between songs was courteous enough to ask me if his amp was too loud and offered to turn it down if it bothered me. Of course I declined. Sam bought me a beer. Definatley a highlight. And years later I spoke to her and she still remembered that.

  6. shawnuel
    May 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Don..I was at that show as well. As it was a while ago I have hazy memories of a guy sitting on the stage. What I really remember was wondering how the Christians in the crowd would respond to the one “F” bomb T Bone unleashed. I was actually visiting with Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5, R.E.M.) who booked the shows at that time. Pete Buck even showed up to watch.

  7. Ecron Muss
    January 24, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I believe some of the songs from this album were actually intended for her final “Leslie Phillips” album The Turning.

    I saw a promo flyer for The Turning a couple of months before it was released, and remember thinking there were an awful lot of songs listed with “Don’t/Won’t/Can’t/Not” in the title.

    When The Turning came out, this didn’t seem to be the case, just one Don’t and one Not.

    However TIW has five such songs.

    Sadly I never kept the flyer.

  8. Ecron Muss
    March 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Addendum: No One But You from Leslie Phillips: Recollections sounds like a T-Bone production from this era, another positive negatory!

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