Sam Phillips, with David Byrne

After incarnations as the queen of Christian rock and a secular purveyor of baroque, Beatlesque pop, Sam Phillips signed with Nonesuch and came up with Fan Dance, a much starker album of dark cabaret torch songs. And now, three years later, we have A Boot and a Shoe, which continues in this unembellished vein. And it's simply gorgeous -- like old cathedrals, music needn't be ornate to be beautiful, and all Phillips needs here is her sultry voice, whip-smart words, spare arrangements and lots of ramshackle drums played by the able hands of Jim Keltner, Carla Azar and road drummer Jay Belarose. (Husband T-Bone Burnett shows his normal production genius.) "They're personality drummers -- they're all odd," she says. "I hear the human coming out. They're not slick drum-machine drummers. They're funky -- I really wish we were filming those sessions, just to see what they were playing. At one point I think they had a snare propped up on a chair, and Jim Keltner was playing a piece of paper. And we had two drummers playing at once on nearly every song, which is completely unnecessary, but Jim Keltner, who I had called to play, really wanted to play with Carla, who is a lot younger than he is. But that was kind of the spirit of the whole thing. More drums! It was a drumfest."

Atop them rides Phillips's smoky Marianne Faithfull-like voice, in full torch-song mode, her wonderful melodies and dry wit clad in only minimal guitar chords and the occasional contribution from a string quartet, which adorns the bare songs as fragrantly and boldly as Dolores Del Rio once wore flowers in her hair. Come to think of it, the dignified Boot and a Shoe is as understatedly and intelligently sexy as all those golden-era matinee queens, and in these days of too much goddamn everything, understatement is the most compelling asset an artist can have. -- John Nova Lomax

Saturday, September 11, at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas, 713-227-4SPA.

Minus the Bear, with Paris, Tx, Statistics and Colossal

Take some guys from Seattle and add a bunch of guitars. Multiply the sum by casual yet convincing vocals. Divide that product by the square root of an electric edge and really fucked-up song titles, and you'll end up with the textured indie-pop of Minus the Bear. Even if you can handle the math, things don't get any easier. The band's full-length Highly Refined Pirates harbors genuine songs beneath non sequitur titles, and damn near all of the songs talk about drinking with girls near bodies of water. "Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco Twister" is about drinking, girls and boats. "Monkey!!! Knife!!! Fight!!!" is about drinking and sitting on a boat dock with a girl. "I Lost All My Money at the Cock Fights" is about being drunk and standing in the rain with a girl. It's insanity. Of course, there are more songs. Songs about sailing and drinking, skinny-dipping drunk and drinking in France. With girls. Somehow, the redundancy doesn't add up. Is it a gimmick or a twisted obsession? Bring a calculator and a life jacket just in case. -- Mandy Jordan

Thursday, September 9, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4215 Washington Avenue, 713-869-JANE.

Marc Broussard, with Blue Merle and Louque

At first glance it's tempting to lump Marc Broussard in with folks like Gavin DeGraw -- all those good-looking white guys signed in the wake of Dave Matthews's success. There's quite a bit more to Broussard, though. His record may be too slick, but his voice is immediately striking -- deeper and more soulful than any of his contemporaries'. However, it's in his live performances that Broussard really breaks away from his competition.

The last time he was here he actually opened for DeGraw, who spent the show seated at his keyboard in his faux trucker's cap basking in the ladies' adulation. Broussard, on the other hand, delivered a chest-thumping, soul-rattling performance that I'm sure was as close as any of those kids had ever come to a tent revival. He comes by it naturally. His dad was the guitarist in the legendary Gulf Coast showband the Boogie Kings for years, and Broussard's voice will remind you of Boogie Kings singer G.G. Shinn. Broussard is ably supported by a good rhythm section and guitarist Gib Droll, a veteran of the eastern-seaboard circuit who proves a worthy foil.

Carencro, Broussard's major-label debut, sounds a bit too polished but features a couple of memorable tunes, including one ("Rock Steady") that sounds like a bona fide hit. It doesn't really matter, though. Broussard is going to win his audience the old-fashioned way: by blowing them away live night after night. I recommend you see him now, so you can gloat to your friends in a few years' time. -- Greg Ellis

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