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Former indie queen find a more mature sound on new album

Phair: style change gradual

‘Miracle’ details emotional journey of Liz Phair

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Somebody’s Miracle, Phair says, represents a maturity and, to a great degree, her own interest in changing as an artist.

By Andy Stonehouse
The Daily Camera (Boulder, CO), October 28, 2005

Few musicians have experienced the cascade of critical caterwauling that greeted one-time indie icon Liz Phair when she released her self-titled 2003 album. How could the straight-talking goddess who created Exile in Guyville succumb to pop music pressure and release a sugary CD produced by the same team responsible for Avril Lavigne’s songs?

Two years later, Phair, 38, has released a new CD that continues in a more polished direction, but approaches things with a subtlety and a flair that’s not quite as obviously overproduced. Somebody’s Miracle, Phair says, represents a maturity and, to a great degree, her own interest in changing as an artist. Crafted with the assistance of producers Dino Meneghin, John Alagia and John Shanks (who co-wrote several of the tunes), the results are a little less shocking than her previous release.

“In the instances that I co-write my material, I realize that you have to let your ego go and try to make the best pop songs that you can,” says Phair, who performs Saturday at Englewood’s Gothic Theatre. “I don’t put the same pressure on those collaborations as I do on my own songs — it’s a whole different ball of wax. And I think everyone has to come to terms with that. Sheryl Crow has just recorded two different albums to help address those different sides of herself, and like her, I just like to explore different kinds of music.”

While Liz Phair came to life in the wake of Phair’s divorce, her life as a single parent and a litany of challenging experiences, the atmosphere on Somebody’s Miracle seems more introspective and open-ended at the same time. Like 1993’s breakthrough Guyville, in which Phair dissected and reinterpreted the macho, boozy posturing of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 Exile on Main StreetSomebody’s Miracle initially was spun as a musical response to Stevie Wonder’s 1976 epic Songs in the Key of Life — this time, more a celebration of Wonder’s marvelous creative powers and his apt sense of emotion.

“That record is monumental. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish that project, as it would have taken another year and studio time is very expensive,” Phair says. “But there are definitely songs that came out of that songwriting project. ‘Table for One’ is a very important song, something that discusses my brother’s alcoholism when we were teenagers. As I often do on a record, it’s the one song where I take a different person’s point of view. I think it has a parallel with ‘Village Ghetto Land’, from Stevie Wonder’s album.”

Phair says this summer’s intimate, eight-city acoustic tour, which also stopped in Denver, helped bring her more closely in touch with her performing roots, although she’s just as happy cranking things up with a full band.

“I love to play my songs the way I experience them and create them, with just me and a guitar,” she says. “All of the clamor about old me and new me drifts away and I can just do what I want … I don’t have to worry about keeping in time with the band, I just play from the heart. It was so fun and so addicting — I can’t wait to do it again. What I really am, at the core, is a songwriter and a storyteller.”

Phair says she hopes older fans will adopt a live and let live attitude when it comes to her new material, which is definitely a far cry from the sexually charged rawk of her 1990s releases. To that end, she’s been encouraged by more positive response to her new CD.

“So far, so good. People are still grumbling about the changes I’ve made, but I think they understand that the songwriting is a little more deep and cohesive,” she says. “The only way I can explain it is that I’m like that movie you watch the first time and maybe you didn’t like it that much, but when it’s on TV all the time or you buy the DVD and watch it over and over again, you start to like it a lot. I takes a while but you realized that I put a lot of details into things that you might not have seen the first time.”

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