Sam Phillips is achingly honest.
Whether she's singing about relationships — with loved ones, the world or God — politics, art, the church, Aimee Semple McPherson or Christmastime, you can count on Sam to bring her singularly pure voice and the truth. She is true blue (and one of her favorite guitars is as red and shiny as Rudolph's nose.)
On her new album, Solid State: Songs from the Long Play, Sam has two songs that have quickly become new favorite Christmas tunes for me. One is explicitly about Christmas, and the other is not, but both speak eloquently (and truthfully) about the mystery and melancholy that the season brings to many of us.
In "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas," Sam talks about missing someone special during the holidays. The lyrics are sad, her voice is sweet, and the juxtaposition of the two strikes a deep chord in my heart. True. Difficult. Beautiful.
"It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas"
By Sam Phillips
It's getting too sentimental
As the cold dark nights get longer and longer
This time next year
I hope that you'll be here with me
This time next year. ...
Before you left the nights were warm
And the light was long with you here
Now the holidays are falling through
My longing for a new year.
It does't feel like Christmas when you're so far away
This time next year
I hope you that you'll be here with me
This time next year.
The second song is "Magic for Everybody," and, while it's not "about" Christmas, it somehow is, at least to my ears. With a rather jolly, upbeat tempo and major key, the song has a certain festive, holiday-appropriate feel. (Toad the Wet Sprocket does a stellar cover of the song, too, that you can check out HERE.) But it's the words that speak (the truth, again) about the pressures we put on ourself to be perfect, as if that's even a possibility. No one is perfect, life is messy and unpredictable and that's the grace of it. "There's magic for everybody," she sings. "Don't let perfect make you blind to this beautiful world. ... Take your mistakes and come with me."
I asked Sam earlier this week what her favorite Christmas tunes were, and her answer was characteristically unexpected.
"I have great affection for the Christmas novelty songs and records as well as the traditional ones," Sam said. "For me, Christmas is a complicated package of childhood memories, cultural and spiritual traditions, emotional longing, the feeling of being home or wondering where home is, light at the darkest time of the year, giving, receiving and ... fun. My favorite Christmas songs may or may not be good songs, but I am connected to them. 'Christmas in Jail,' 'Santa Baby,' 'Spike Jones' version of 'All I Want for Christmas,' 'Blue Christmas,' and Nat King Cole singing 'The Christmas Song' and 'O Holy Night,' are a few of my favorites."
"Christmas in Jail" was a new one for me. It's funny and wacky. I can see why Sam likes it.
"Christmas in Jail"
By The Youngsters
And here's the King himself, Elvis Presley (in his black leather phase) performing "Blue Christmas":