ARTIST: Rosalie Sorrels

TITLE: Strangers In Another Country: The songs of Utah Phillips

LABEL: Red House Records RHR214

By Barry Smiler


What a terrific album, and how appropriate that it comes to us this way. Forty-odd years ago it was Rosalie Sorrels whose singing brought Bruce "Utah" Phillips to the attention of so many people, so it's somehow fitting that Sorrels has now recorded this heartfelt and beautiful tribute to the songs of her old pal. Phillip's recent death makes it a bittersweet occasion, and surely Sorrels didn't plan for the release to be timed in quite this way. But like the hobo who finds out where the train is going only after hopping on, when you're already aboard and rolling you might as well enjoy the ride.

These songs cover the full run of Phillips' long career, from his earliest and best known songs like Starlight On The Rails and The Green Rolling Hills of West Virginia to some unpublished work that has never before been recorded. In this well-chosen representative sample of the Phillips songbook, Sorrels takes the lead and is very ably assisted by Peggy Seeger, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Jay Ungar, and Molly Mason.

A Utah Phillips show was always more than just a bunch of songs. He knew that the setup was as important as the pitch, and that there was far more to what he always called "the trade" than just singing a song, then another, then another. For one good example, here he is telling a wild and woolly tale about cowboy pioneers Charlie Goodnight and Oliver Loving to introduce his sweet song


The setup and the pitch. See what I mean? He understood that a show is indeed a show, a coherent whole from one end to the other, and when you're up on that stage every moment counts. This sense of theater was the basis for Bruce's entertaining and inspiring Utah show for forty-odd years. For another example, check out his classic chestnut "

" It's a real steamer :)

On this recording, Rosalie Sorrels deftly echoes and acknowledges this theatrical perspective by setting up many of these songs with a few lines, often by Phillips, to set the mood. These stories and reminiscences clearly show the esteem in which Sorrels holds her old friend.

It's not often that a CD is sweet, inspirational, motivating, and even funny, all at the same time. This one is.