Marvin Etzioni, Sam Phillips

By Allen Howie

How to Get Everyone's Attention 101: step out of the crowd playing a mandolin, singing without the aid of a microphone or amplifier. It worked for Marvin Etzioni, the former bass player from Lone Justice, who opened for Sam Phillips at Phoenix Hill on July 12.

Etzioni's voice possesses some of Bob Dylan's timbre, and his phrasing has echoes of Dylan as well. He turned his mandolin into a combination lead instrument and rhythm section as he treated the audience to material from his new album, including the title track, "Weapons of the Spirit," and "Man on the Tightrope (Leap of Faith)."

He dedicated the soulful "Temple and Shrine" to singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, who appears on the album, preceding it with the lovely "Can't Cry Hard Enough," from his debut album. Co-written with David Williams of the Williams Brothers, it carried the raw emotional impact of John Lennon's early solo records. And speaking of Lennon, Etzioni offered a stripped-down, slow-motion take of "Please Please Me," transforming the Beatles hit from giddy pop into a melancholy lover's lament. He closed out his set with a series of new numbers, including "All Life Long," "Take Good Care of Your Soul" and the world-weary folk of "Miss This World."

A couple of times during his performance, Etzioni asked a talkative portion of the audience to respect the folks who paid to hear the show by ending their conversation. Although his requests went mostly unheeded, the singer struck a blow for those of us who cringe when a moving performance is ruined by people who are only there to converse, at the expense of those who came for the music.

In any event, the audience was ready when Sam Phillips, accompanied by husband T Bone Burnett on guitar, launched her set with "The Turning," the riveting title track from her 1987 album, recorded as Leslie Phillips.

Phillips' band joined her for a set built around her wonderful new Virgin Records release, Martinis and Bikinis. Included were an impassioned "Circle of Fire" and the intoxicating buzz of "Same Rain." With tongue firmly in cheek, Phillips dedicated a version of "Baby I Can't Please You" to Rush Limbaugh, following it with a dense rendition of "When I Fall."

Standing in one spot for every number, Phillips' voice came through clear and supple, turning to a soft shiver over T Bone's hushed guitar on "Strawberry Road." Then, with the band back onstage, Phillips ran through "Signposts," the dancing rhythms of "Fighting with Fire," and a ringing take of "I Need Love," less an emotional appeal than a statement of faith. Performing 16 songs in an all-to-brief hour, Phillips' set offered a nice counterpoint to Etzioni's, and the combination of the two proved to be a richly satisfying double-bill.