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Britta Phillips - Luck or Magic

Britta Phillips - CD Review
Luck or Magic

 Britta Phillips - Luck or Magic

CD Info:
Album: Luck or Magic
Artist: Britta Phillips
Label: Double Feature Records
Genre: Alternative-pop
Language: English
Tracks: 10 Total time: 39:41
Rating: 9 of 10

In case you think you have read this review from me before, I should probably put something of a disclaimer before we get started. A while back, I wrote a review of another band featuring a singer named Samantha Newark, who was otherwise known as “the voice of Jem”, the cartoon from the ‘80s. Well, Samantha was the speaking voice of Jem. She spoke for the character when she was Jerrica, the modern-day businesswoman with a secret identity; but once the ‘80s cartoon character used her magic earrings and transformed into Jem, the voice that came out was the one that belonged to a singer named Britta Phillips. So although I am only making reference to this character one other time in this review, I figured it was at least worth a mention.

Also, in the context of Britta’s career, her 3-year stint as a singing cartoon character was just another notch in her prestigious musical belt. From roles in movies with Julia Roberts to her work with the ‘90s alternative band Luna to scoring movie soundtracks with her husband, Britta Phillips has quite the accomplished résumé; but she’d never made a solo album. Until now.

In an off-and-on project that took years to make, Luck or Magic is the end result of a 2012 lunch date with San Francisco DJ Scott Hardkiss (known as one of the forefathers of the electronica/rave genre). Anxious to work together but also caught between both their busy schedules, the songs slowly came together, but then everything came to an abrupt halt in 2013 when Scott unexpectedly passed away.

Whether it was by “luck or magic” that the album got made at all by that point is not quite clear; but ultimately Britta chose to finish the work-in-progress, and in June 2015 she went back to work on the project she and Scott had started. What came about was an even balance of Britta’s original material along with cover songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“Daydream”: The opening track gently pulls you in, it doesn’t jump in your face and proclaim itself as opening tracks sometimes do. This song is so chill, you are immediately pulled into a world of peace and tranquility with images of sunny days and bright blue skies. The soothing, flowing melodies coupled with Britta’s smooth, calming voice envelops the listener in a warmth that must be what a daydream sounds like.

“Do it Last”: Britta’s vocals are light and airy over a groovy, electronica-influenced track that gets you nodding your head to the beat. “I don’t care who did it first, ‘cause I’m gonna do it last”, Britta asserts herself in a teasing way. Of her original songs, this is standing out as a favorite.

“One Fine Summer Morning”: The first cover tune of the album, this rendition of the Evie Sands song has simple acoustic guitars and flutes, carrying the listener away into images of a lazy day on the beach. You can almost imagine yourself on the hammock and feel the sea breeze in your hair as the cool waves of Britta’s voice carries you out into the tide.

“Million Dollar Doll”: This Britta original is a throwback to the ‘80s with its up-tempo synthpop beat. If you bought this album to hear Britta’s “Jem” voice, this is where she delivers in spades. You almost expect to hear the phrase “truly outrageous!” before the song is done. For obvious reasons, this is definitely my favorite track of her original material, and I’m pretty sure many of her fans will consider this a favorite too.

“Drive”: A cover of the classic ‘80s hit from The Cars, Britta “drives” home the somber lyrics of the song with her slow, morose vocal delivery. Unlike the original version, where the vocals convey frantic desperation, Britta’s interpretation has more of a disquieting feel, as if she pities the character who is being addressed in the song. The music is very bare-bones, giving greater weight to the heaviness of the lyrical content and making sure all focus is on the words that Britta is singing. Of the cover songs, this one of my favorites.

“Falling in Love”: Dramatic strings and slow, jazzy grooves set the tone for this tune originally penned by the late Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. You can almost picture Britta sitting on a piano in a smoky nightclub as she sings the words, “all I can do, you know it’s for my baby”. The chorus is where the strings take center stage and give it almost a symphonic sound, and build up into more of that California vibe that is befitting the song. This one ties with “Drive” as a favorite among the cover tunes.

“Luck or Magic”: Penned by Britta, the title track is bluesy and soulful; her voice has enough “grit” to sing the verse, “I can’t believe I ever met you…’cause if I grieve, what good would that do?” Then she really belts it out towards the end of the song, going to that upper register that she doesn’t use too often, but that her Jem fans know and love so well.

“Landslide”: It’s always a tricky prospect to take on a well-beloved song by a world-renowned band, but Britta handles her interpretation of the Fleetwood Mac classic with the same grace that her voice conveys as she sings those immortal words, “I’m getting older, too.” There’s some lovely guitar work on this track, but aside from that, the music is no-frills and allows Britta’s voice to take the spotlight.

“Wrap Your Arms Around Me”: The music gets playful on this Agnetha Faltskog cover; a little bit of dance, a little bit of disco, and Britta’s hypnotic vocals both put you into a trance while making you want to glide across the dance floor. Seriously, I hope that one of the fans in the Jem community will make a mash-up video with this song, because the way Britta sings the song’s title sounds so Jem-like!

“Ingrid Superstar”: The closing track is one of Britta’s own, and it’s got a folksy, alternative feel to it; which I really like. The rhythmic percussion work gets your toes tapping and Britta’s chanting vocals get you clapping your hands to the beat. It’s got a very avante-garde vibe and is just slightly different enough from the other songs to where you notice its quirky appeal, but is not so far-removed from the rest of the album that you wonder what it’s doing there at all. Just as the album slowly brings you in, it serenely fades off in the same way.

Overall opinion: If one could imagine Britta’s animated alter-ego to be an actual person making real music, then Luck or Magic might have been how the character of Jem would sound in the year 2016: the music is mature, it is thoughtful, and it is completely aware of itself. It doesn’t impose or make demands, it simply rolls along and waves a friendly hand at you to come along and enjoy the ride. Musically it would probably be deemed as “alternative”, but there are all kinds of different influences from electronica to dance to soul to jazz. Their common thread is that all of them maintain this placid serenity that threads itself throughout each song, with Britta’s voice a calming presence whether she’s singing about love or loss, high or low…luck or magic. Her choice of cover tunes also speaks to every ‘80s kid who grew up with these songs or who grew up with Britta’s voice: they are familiar, but they sound new again by way of a voice that is so familiar. Luck or Magic is gorgeous and stunning for all its undemanding, no-frills approach. Each song stands on the basics and on the strength of Britta’s voice, but she carries the music where she wants it to go and you are right there along with her. It’s a trip through daydreams and fine summer mornings, but with a little luck or magic, this gem of an album will work its charm on you, too.

Britta Phillips
Photo by Luz Gallardo

For more information on Britta Phillips, visit her website: www.brittaphillips.com