“I don’t care who did it first, ’cause I’m gonna do it last.”
The refrain from “Do It Last,” the second track on Britta Phillips’s long-awaited debut solo album Luck or Magic, perfectly conveys the sultry confidence that she exudes throughout this set of five originals and five covers. The rich-voiced bassist of Luna and Dean & Britta fame takes the lead here and offers a full course flavored with hints of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s but which remains fresh and original throughout.
Phillips began Luck or Magic in 2012 in collaboration with producer Scott Hardkiss, but set the project aside after Hardkiss unexpectedly died in 2013. Since then, she has busied herself recording and touring, first with her husband and Luna bandmate Dean Wareham on his 2014 self-titled solo album (which I reviewed here), followed by a 2015 Luna reunion tour, as well as her work (with Wareham) on the movie soundtrack for Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. Amidst all this activity, she finished recording Luck or Magic with producer Eric Broucek.
The album opens with the Phillips original “Daydream,” a lush and melodically surprising slow burn that evokes a 1960s James Bond theme song. On its heels comes “Do It Last,” a mellow, soulful jam which, along with the title track, has a smooth and relaxed 1970s feel. “One Fine Summer Morning,” the first of the covers (along with “Drive,” “Fallin’ In Love,” “Landslide,” and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”), is a country-tinged delight, full of sunlight and mountainous resonance, while “Million Dollar Doll” has the fuzzy edges and layers of synthesizer that are sure to delight anyone who feels a bit of nostalgia for 1980s New Wave.
Of particular note are Phillips’ treatments of “Drive,” the classic ballad by The Cars, and “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” originally done by Agnetha Fältskog (of ABBA). Phillips gives “Drive” a slow-dance tempo and brings the keyboard arpeggios to the fore, which enhances the sense of longing even beyond that in the original. On “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” her voice resonantly comes to the front over a spare beat and rhythm section on the verses, with fuller swells of guitar, synth, and multi-track vocals on the chorus. The album closes with the mid-tempo “Ingrid Superstar,” which begins with a pulsing combination of guitar, bass and drums and slowly adds in melodic layers of keyboards and bells until it comes to an abrupt end that leaves the listener wanting more.
Luck or Magic is a diverse and varied album that is enjoyable and surprising from beginning to end, one that was well worth the wait. It is currently streaming at the Wall Street Journal. Britta Phillips’ website has more information about the album and tour dates.
Colin O’Brienworks in the communications department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and periodically updates his personal blog, Fallen Sparrow.