Archive for the Kelly Joe PHELPS Category

Kelly Joe PHELPS – Western Bell 2009

Posted in BLUES, Kelly Joe PHELPS on November 21, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Kelly Joe PHELPS – Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind 2005

Posted in BLUES, Kelly Joe PHELPS on November 19, 2010 by whoisthemonk

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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Kelly Joe PHELPS – Western Bell 2009

Posted in BLUES, Kelly Joe PHELPS on November 16, 2010 by whoisthemonk

Kelly Joe PHELPS – Western Bell 2009


Kelly Joe Phelps returns with Western Bell, his eighth full-length album and first all instrumental record. All songs feature solo performances recorded live in studio. Phelps performs on 6 and 12- string guitars, and makes a long-anticipated return to lap-slide guitar. Long-hailed for his virtuosic and courageous playing, these eleven instrumentals for solo guitar are an intimate look at Phelps’ inner creative and emotional world. The vast majority of the numbers are improvised on the spot and Phelps seems to deconstruct the very instrument that’s carried him around the world. Playing mostly in odd tunings only the most basic elements of a ‘guitar piece’ remain – vibrato, the occasional alternating thumb, and the clack of a bar on a steel string. The shining black center of Western Bell is Phelps himself, sifting through the engrained muscle memory of years of playing, the record collection, the poems, women, other on-ramps. Incredibly personal, these ruminations reflect a soul busy coming to terms with its scope and parameters, past & future.
At some point, the rearview mirror gets too fat. So crowded, so saturated with the recorded miles and miles of what’s back there, it just falls off the windshield. Then you turn and go home.

After a decade and a half of traveling the world – occasionally with a band, but usually alone with a guitar – Kelly Joe Phelps’ rearview might’ve fallen off the windshield. Western Bell, his eighth full-length album, could be the soundtrack to his first mirror-cleaning sit-down in a long while. Some stuff winds up on the mantle (the photo of the Montana ranch where he helped herd cattle); some stuff winds up tattooed on his arms (a whole lot of names, or the pirate that says, “Be Kind”).

Long-hailed for his virtuosic and courageous playing, these eleven instrumentals for solo guitar feel different somehow. It’s as though the audience has been removed from the equation – not momentarily ignored, but removed entirely –- leaving the compelling sensation of peering through a keyhole. “Where’s the slide?” they used to yell – really yell – at the guy up there playing some of the most unstraightest straight guitar ever set down. “Play the slide! Shine-eyed!” Well, after a four-record slide hiatus, a few cuts (“Blowing Dust 40 Miles,” the vast “The Jenny Spin,” and “Little Family”) feature Phelps laying it down horizontally again, but lawd knows not for those folks. More sonically investigative than ever, and simply wrought with emotion, the results are spellbinding.

Technically speaking, the vast majority of the numbers are improvised on the spot, some in tunings so backasswards that only the most basic elements of a “guitar piece” remain – vibrato, the occasional alternating thumb, the clack of a bar on a steel string. In these instances, Phelps seems to deconstruct the very engine that’s carried him around the world, lay the guts on the floor, and set to rebuilding a machine precisely in tune with the necessaries. No drag.

And herein we find the shining black center of Western Bell, of Phelps himself perhaps, sifting through the engrained muscle memory of years of playing, the record collection, the poems, women, other on-ramps. Incredibly personal, these ruminations reflect a soul busy coming to terms with its scope and parameters, past & future. Visions of big sky, ant hills in fast-forward, her laugh when she drank.

Others, like the curtain-parting title cut, or the love-drunk stumble of “Hattie’s Hat,” are compositions so fully formed, so flecked with the ghosts of American Music, you’d swear they’ve existed for generations. Sinatra could slide into “Murdo,” & Gershwin could have written it. Leadbelly, Bill Evans, from stomps to carnivals, and all with mojo – as quick as an allusion is recognized, it’s gone again. Beautiful, innovative, and inspired.

There are only a handful of truly seminal solo guitar recordings in circulation, ones that forever transport both audience and genre. Add one more to the list. Here is Kelly Joe Phelps’ Western Bell.
Such technically dazzling stuff can often be hard to really love.
Kelly Joe Phelps, the American singer and guitarist, is another in the vast club of musicians who reside in relative obscurity despite critical validation with every release. On this latest opus he dispenses with the oblique wordplay that marks his usual output and concentrates instead on his considerable skill with six strings and piece of wood. The results, while typically idiosyncratic, are as remarkable and offbeat as you’d expect from a man of such proven talent.

Phelps obviously has a foot in both the traditional and the avant garde. The introductory title track sets the tone marvellously by wrong-footing the listener. The ghost of primitivist John Fahey lurks over the bluesy picking. That is, until a single dissonant note pokes its head over the parapet. The listener may try to ignore it, until it’s joined by more and more, gradually skewing the tune until it begins to resemble one of Les Dawson’s famous ‘inept’ piano recitals. It’s both clever, amusing and oddly charming.

What follows is a collection of the equivalent of musique concrete for the guitar (all squeaks and scrapes; again reminiscent of Fahey’s later work with Cul De Sac), ragas, ragts and blues laments. Often approaching the condition of ambience or even Ry Cooder’s soundtrack work it plays with abstraction in a teasing manner. Blowing Dust 40 Miles is assembled out of harmonics, wobbly slide work and suchlike. This is music that teeters on the edge of chaos; almost as if hanging out with jazz players like Bill Frisell has taught him the value of improvisation even though it’s welded to a folk chassis.

And while Phelps’ lyrical work may sometimes be a little too intense for its own good, you find yourself missing his rasp. Such technically dazzling stuff can often be hard to really love, and it is a little over-egged. But when it’s properly balanced with the glow of familiar chord progressions as on the appropriately-named 12-string track, Hometown With Melody, it’s simply wonderful. One for fans.
By Chris Jones.
When Bill Frisell and Leo Kottke are in your corner, you don’t have to worry much about who isn’t…and that pair has already put their stamp of approval on Kelly Joe Phelps’ music. Still, if you’re familiar with Frisell’s transition from a prominent psych-jazz-fusion guitarist into a beyond-the-pale mutant-Americana practitioner, then you may harbor a lurking suspicion that not all is going to be rural kosher in the musics he calls attention to.

Western Bell is Phelps’ 8th full-length CD but his 1st all-instrumental release, solo and live in studio (and, as far as can be detected, each song was caught in a single take, as-is, straight out, no messn’ around) and it isn’t whatever you might be imagining. Instead, the guitarist has chosen to explore some of the outer possibilities of his instrument…not as, say, Derek Baily did (totally lacking form, foundation, or function) but rather to see how far melody could be established and then twisted, sometimes way out of bounds but without losing it entirely.

To that end, Blowing Dust 40 Miles is an excellent place to start. Embracing a Cage-ian ting-tang method in pizzicato, there’s plenty of incidentalism to the piece, punctuated by slidey thematics rather than the other way around. A strong element of Bill Harkleroad (Capt. Beeheart, Mallard) invades the piece as well, bending off in a Dalinian fashion to soft organics. The damnedest thing is that the song actually fully represents its titular subject. Having spent a good deal of time in the desert, I can well attest to the fact: a strange set of zephyrs will indeed conduct themselves just as portrayed here. Try Canyonlands and the Muley Twist section off Burr Trail (both in Utah, with some of the most exquisite desert expanses in the country) for proof. It’s eerie how Phelps has captured it.
By Mark S. Tucker.
01. Western Bell 3:08
02. Sovereign Wyoming 3:58
03. Blowing Dust 40 Miles 4:46
04. American Exchange Hotel 2:27
05. Hometown With Melody 4:19
06. Hattie\’s Hat 4:27
07. The Jenny Spin 4:47
08. Murdo 4:41
09. East To Kansas 3:56
10. Blue Daughter Tattoo 4:47
11. Little Family 3:57

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