The brilliant folk-rock singer and songwriter Shawn Phillips is on a U.S. tour. See him if you can. Schedule here.

Aptly referred to on a fan site as “The best-kept secret in the music business,” the Texan Shawn Phillips combined an astonishingly powerful voice with impressive songwriting and eclectic musical tastes incorporating folk, rock, jazz, classical, avant garde, and world influences.

Phillips began his career in the 1960s with the Scottish folkie Donovan (allegedly cowriting some of the latter’s most popular songs, such as the classic “Season of the Witch,” but having his author credit stolen), and he released a series of superb albums in the 1970s. He never became a big star, but his music is well worth investigating.

It’s important to note that there’s nothing of the annoying ’70s folk-rock-weenie approach in Shawn Phillips. His music is muscular, his voice forceful, and his lyrics intelligent and confident. He’s also unembarrassed about his Christianity without hitting people over the head with it. Those who don’t ordinarily like folk-rock should give Shawn Phillips a chance.

Album recommendations:

Second Contribution–a classic, five stars out of five. Much of the album is done as an extended suite. Phillips”s singing was never more impressive than here; he uses his voice the way others use guitar solos, and to equally powerful effect. At one point he holds a single note for what seems an impossible length of time.

Collaboration—ditto on the quality. “Moonshine” is one of his greatest songs, and other standouts from this album are “Spaceman,” “What’s Happenin’, Jim?” “Times of a Madman, Trials of a Thief,” “8500 Years,” “Springwind,” “Coming Down Soft and Easy”—oh, heck, the entire thing’s just about perfect.

Bright White—A bit more rock-oriented than his previous efforts, with more electric guitars, but Bright White still showcases Phillips’s immense gift for melody, and “Lasting Peace of Mind” is just startlingly beautiful.

No Category—”Moneydance” and “Power of a Woman” are two of his best songs, and the entire album is firmly in the vein of Bright White.

Faces—Just the right mix of cheerful, melodic songs and passionate ones with philosophical lyrics. The epic “Parisien Plight II” is an essential track, and “Hey, Miss Lonely,” “We,” and “Anelo, Where Are You?” are musically joyful with thoughtful, intelligent lyrics.

For more information: article on Shawn Phillips.

—S. T. Karnick