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Self-made guitar instrumental albums by Glenn Phillips arrive slightly more often than new presidential administrations; there have been six presidents since he began making solo albums in 1975, and in that time, he's completed nine new studio albums, plus a live disc and a compilation. But Angel Sparks is his first since Walking Through Walls seven years earlier, and that one followed its predecessor, Scratched by the Rabbit, by six years, so his production is slowing down. In his extensive and highly personal liner notes, Phillips says that he thinks of all three albums as being connected, and if so, this one completes a cycle. In those notes, he cites death as the album's theme, pointedly discussing his father's suicide 30 years before and his mother's more recent demise. Nearly each track gets an explanation, but they are useful to the listener only in discovering Phillips' inspirations. This is not program music, and while "Nightmare" may be "about the kind of nightmare that builds up to such intensity that it wakes you up in the middle of the night" to Phillips, to others it is likely to seem far more benign, a delicate piece that employs a guitar drone reminiscent of some of Robert Fripp's ambient "Frippertronics" pieces of the 1970s and builds into a stately structure. Actually, many of the compositions here are restrained and attractively melodic, particularly "I'll Be Home" and the title tune, each of which easily could be turned into a catchy pop song if lyrics were added. There is occasionally an elegiac tone to the music, but much of it is equally interpretable as uplifting. Fans of Phillips' more extreme, string-bending hard rock outings may find this one a bit tame, but there is plenty of imaginative playing, even in the gentle surroundings.
Performance CreditsGlenn Phillips Primary Artist,Bass,Guitar,Autoharp,Keyboards,Tambourine
John Carr Harriman Cello
Mike Holbrook Fretless Bass Guitar
Bill Rea Bass
Marcus David Hammered Dulcimer
Technical CreditsGlenn Phillips Producer,Liner Notes,Art Direction
George Pappas Engineer
Jason Stelluto Graphic Design,Art Direction
Scott Beal Art Direction
Kate Oehler Producer