Kelly Joe PHELPS – Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind 2005

Kelly Joe PHELPS – Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind 2005


There are few artists who offer the raw sincerity and accomplished musical acumen that guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps does. From his first offering, Lead Me On on the Burnside label, through his subsequent studio outings for Rykodisc, Phelps has done something remarkable: forged himself a solid identifying mark as a folk and blues musician of distinction in fields owing so much to the past that latter-day performers are usually crushed under the weight of them. Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind is a collection of solo live performances recorded n California in 2004. Lee Townsend, who has long been affiliated with him, produced the set. It opens with a nine-and-a-half-minute version of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues.” Phelps snakily moves the tune through various modes and modulations, delving deep into Delta blues tonalities and backside melodies that open up spaces inside it. His voice, smoky and sweetly raspy, is never harsh, though it often sounds like it is inhabited by ghosts. It’s a stunner. The other cover here is a smoking version of the late Rev. Gary Davis’ “I Am the Light of the World.” Dignified, soulful, and spot-on musically, Phelps is a dynamite guitarist who adds, subtracts, and morphs figures onto the original fingerstyle lines, and uses his voice to offer evidence of the timelessness of the lyric. And as moving and virtuosic as these two performances are, it’s his own songs that offer the true prize of this collection. There’s “Jericho,” with its spooky droning bassline just under some slippery, winding fingerstyle playing, all of it supporting a vocal that comes from some lost world, just beyond the pale, to impart a tale from antiquity that weighs heavily on the forbidding present juncture. The stinging folk-blues of “Gold Tooth” showcases Phelps’ ability to make the strings literally dance as his singing tugs at the ends of lines while driving others deeper into the spectral groove. The tenderness inherent in “Waiting for Marty” is elegiac, full of sepia tones and the notion of bittersweet memory. Here is the place where longing, regret for a life squandered, and the acceptance of things as they are — even as they drift away into the ether and invisible history — makes for a song that is literally unlike any other. Simply stated, if there is one recording that captures the sum of the magic, power, and poetry that is Kelly Joe Phelps, this one’s it.
By Thom Jurek.
Seven albums into his career, the jazz guitarist turned acoustic country blues man has increasingly been balancing old standards an forgotten nuggets with his own material. For ‘Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind’, his current live album, the only non originals included are Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” and Rev. Gary Davis’ “I am the Light of the World”, and while this may not delight the traditionalists it’s difficult to raise much cause for complaint when you hear dusty voiced Phelps picking his way through the hauntingly plaintive “Cardboard Box of Batteries” or the melancholic “Not So Far to Go”.”
“Over the years, he’s graduated to a level on par with the likes of Waits and Springsteen in his storytelling as he weaves his tales of life’s bruised hearts in search of their dreams and his fingers slide over the guitar strings like it’s God strumming the notes. Frankly even six minutes or so in the company of “Tommy” or “Waiting for Marty” just doesn’t seem long enough. Soak up and enjoy.” –
“No one could accuse today’s generation of new musicians of ignoring the primal call of the blues. But amid the holler and swagger of the new revivalists, the music of Kelly Joe Phelps shimmers like cool water in a desert. Phelps deals in subtlety, intimacy and nuance with expert finesse.
‘Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind’, featuring just the sound of his flying finger work and world-weary vocals, distills his music close to its very essence.”
I first listened to this album at the reccord store under the jazz/blues category, expecting to hear electric lament guitar solos; typical blues you know?
Well I was pretty darn surprised when I discovered it was everything but “typical blues”.
Mr Phelps came up with a live album using only accoustic guitar as an instrument. Is voice and music immediatly brought up an image inside my head : burning hot asphalt under a deadly summer afternoon sun….
I brought it back home and popped it into the CD player and started listening. The quality of production was so good that I felt as if I was sitting on Mr. Phelps front porch listening to his music while sipping a bourbon. Wish I actually had Bourdon at that time….
This album is very mellow and heart warming. This guy has a great voice.
I have a hard time imagining that anyone could actually totally dislike this album. That’s how good it is.
By Daniel Larocque.
Being familiar and enriched by the integrity and quality of Kelly Joe Phelps’ prior recordings, the only reservation I had before I bought this CD was that it was live.
Understand me, I don’t dislike live albums in principle. In the case of certain artists, live recordings have captured legendary performances and unusual moments of beauty.
Anyway, the point was whether an album of new versions of old songs and a couple of classic Blues, plus the potentially limited sound of a live performance, would add to Phelps’ track record.
Great news. This album is as satisfying and likely to touch you as much as any one of Phelps prior incarnations, whichever one may be your favorite.
The album begins with a remarkable version of the classic “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues,” sung so close to the bone you may think he’s channeling Skip James himself, and also serving a the first reminder of this man’s skill and feel on the acoustic guitar.
Both his voice and his strings do the honors on several of self-penned tunes too. Three that must be mentioned, for their intimacy and new touch, are “Not So Far To Go” and “Waiting For Marty” -both ballads that were highlights from his last studio album Slingshot Professionals”- and the tender and thoughtful “Tommy.” Plus the second cover, “I Am The Light O f The World,” is equally astounding.
Finally, the quality of the recording is impeccable as live albums go. It seems that the people in the small audience present were as enthralled as I, when he played these songs. Other than applauses respectfully waiting for the end of each song, the silence is absolute. Almost reverential of the great music captured on Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind.
By Juan Mobili.
Kelly Joe Phelps is the premier acoustic blues guitarist. For years his fans have been begging him to release a live CD. At last, Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind is the long-awaited opportunity to hear Kelly Joe recorded live in concert! Over an hour of pure unadulterated Kelly Joe Phelps at his finest – recorded in the intimate environments of two favorite venues – McCabe’s in Santa Monica and The Freight And Salvage in Berkeley. The repertoire features Kelly Joe favorites, including “Jericho,” “Tommy,” “Not So Far To Go,” plus astonishing versions of two classic cover songs – “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” and “I Am The Light Of The World.”
01. Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues  (9:46)
02. Not So Far to Go (7:35)
03. Jericho  (8:46)
04. Fleashine  (6.44)
05. Cardboard Box of Batteries  (6:29)
06. Gold Tooth  (8:56)
07. Tommy  (6:47)
08. I Am the Light of the World  (6:28)
09. Waiting for Marty  (6:26)

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