Gretchen Phillips, late of Two Nice Girls, is for sure too nice on the new record of mostly covers she’s recorded with Dave Driver. But not in a happy way; more in an angelic, can-no-longer-muster-the- energy-to-be-angry way—what the DSM-IV calls “Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood.”
That’s what makes her reading of the Scud Mountain Boys’ soft-rock standout “Grudge Fuck” so moving (remember when Scuds were funny?). Drained of testosterone, a line like “I really miss the shit where you’re concerned/I only wish I had another turn” is bottomless longing, especially when undercut with Driver’s grandly romantic voice (his credits include Rent, every showstopping Loser’s Lounge ballad, and my wedding). Phillips’s neurasthenia also gently illuminates Leonard Cohen’s “Joan of Arc” (Driver sings the fire part) and the mournful “I Loved You Once in Silence,” from Carousel, the mother of all weepies. Don Piper’s smooth jazz guitar floats behind it all like a worn duvet.
It’s post-lounge cabaret, just the soundtrack for what’s still the saddest war of the CNN era. Though, so as not to throw yourself out a window, you might want to program around the two creepily paranoid originals, hers recalling life “since our country’s been at war,” and his daring Paul Michael Glaser to admit he blames queers for killing his family. Togetherness isn’t all blissful bummers; they’ve rounded it out with a McGinty-esque selection of songs about the love that only speaks its name on AM radio: Badfinger and Bad Company, Barry Manilow and Jimmie F. Rodgers (who even in 1958 must have wondered what “Till we have the right to kiss openly/We’ll just have to be content to be in love secretly” meant). But for the moment, I’ll take a limp hug over hipster smug any day.