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Phoebe Snow
Shelter SR 2109
Released: September 1974
Chart Peak: #4
Weeks Charted: 58
Certified Gold: 4/9/75

Phoebe Snow.gifPhoebe Snow's extraordinary debut album, one of the year's sleepers, has steadily climbed the charts, despite minimal fanfare and no major tour. Born in New York in 1952 and brought up in Teaneck, New Jersey, Snow emerges a prodigiously talented singer/writer/acoustic guitarist in a jazz-rock idiom, with a highly distinctive alto. Snow's singing is cool, yet not blasé; perfect enunciation coincides with spontaneous melismatic invention. Dino Airali's production brings out her uniqueness. Distant mellotron fills the role of strings, and Zoot Sims's tenor sax counterpoints her haunting vocals.

With the exception of "Let the Good Times Roll" and "San Francisco Bay Blues," the album's nine songs are Snow originals and might be described as light jazz torch songs, but they transcend the rigidity of form and attitude which that implies. Snow's lyrics, which alternate quirky urban images and first-person cries of pain and confusion, seem to come directly from some primal source, each song embodying a moment of total recall, confiding past experience as though it were present -- raw, untainted by sentimental reflection.

The album's finest cut, "I Don't Want the Night to End," recalls the death of a lover and the urge to indulge in despair:

The dirty city mist
Has seeped too deep inside
It took me on some kind
Of heady ride
They told me Charlie Parker died
And I don't want the night to end

In the excellent "Poetry Man," Snow secretly addresses a man she loves who is married. "Either or Both" and "Harpo's Blues" evoke abject loneliness, the feeling of being an unlovable yet fiercely romantic adolescent. "Take Your Children Home" offers a comic vision of mysticism; "No Show Tonight" describes a daydream of fame and rejection; and "It Must Be Sunday" sketches a self-portrait of desperation on New Year's Eve.

Together these songs portray a writer of uncompromising honesty. In "Either Or," her most revealing song, Snow discourses with her mirror image:

Sometimes this life
Gets so empty
That I become afraid
Then I remember you're in it
And I think
I might still
Have it made

Phoebe Snow has made it. On a musical level, she shows the potential of becoming a great jazz singer. Among confessional pop songwriters she immediately ranks with the finest.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 1/2/75.

Bonus Reviews!

This woman's languorous, swaying folk-jazz fusion is striking enough to suggest that her debut LP will become sort of a cult item. And it's better than most cult items. But her groove does not quite carry cuts as protracted as "It Must Be Sunday." Nor is it an encouraging sign that the most commercial lyric on a verbally distinguished album, "Poetry Man," is also the most fatuous. The plus is for encouragement, and for the graceful way her voice combines nasality and smoothness. B+

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Phoebe Snow Lyrics

Phoebe Snow Videos

1974 was smack dab in the middle of the singer/songwriter era in American pop music. It was the era that brought the solo female performer to the fore, principally through the fine work of Joni Mitchell and Carole King. This recording, Snow's debut, brought a jazz sensibility and a husky, resonant voice to the party. Riding on the strength of her Top Five hit, "Poetry Man," (1975), and simple, acoustic instrumentation by jazz veterans Zoot Sims, Ralph McDonald, and Bob James, Phoebe Snow is an intimate, pleasant outing which, with the passage of time, still offers a pleasant listen, albeit a bit on the cocktail/jazz side. The CD is enhanced by wonderfully remastered sound; Snow's voice is full, intimate, and warm, while the sparse instrumental backing is precise and dynamic. A bonus track is included, "Easy Street," which was originally the B side to the hit single that came from the same sessions. B

- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.

A wondrous folk, pop, and jazz album of Snow's original songs and some well-chosen covers, all showcasing her one-of-a-kind voice. Includes the Top Five hit "Poetry Man." * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

Phoebe Snow is an auspicious coffee house folk debut that reveals an emotional assuredness underneath her considerable vocal range. It contains "Poetry Man," as well as the gutsy "Harpo's Blues" and an interesting cover of Sam Cooke's "Good Times." * * * *

- Allan Orski, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Back in '74, this genre-crossing pop-soul-jazz singer-songwriter-poet seemed to come from out of nowhere, delivering a treasure in the form of this lovely first album. With a voice that's mellow, earthy and full of unique swoops and swirls, she wowed fans with songs like "Poetry Man," the biggest radio hit of her career. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

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