Kelly Joe Phelps has built a reputation as a master solo slide guitarist throughout his 20-year recording career, and anyone who has ever seen him live can attest that he performs with as much intensity, if not more, than the average band. Yet, as a consummate artist, the Portland, OR resident has been expanding his musical range in recent years, working with various ensembles, including Vancouver experimental folkies Steve Dawson and Jesse Zubot. On Western Bell, he instead offers a mesmerizing collection of largely improvised solo acoustic pieces, perhaps the most shining example to date of his utterly fearless approach to guitar. With titles like "Sovereign Wyoming" and "East To Kansas" greatly helping to enhance the images evoked by the music, Phelps doesn't so much transform standard blues and jazz forms as much as he allows listeners to vicariously experience for themselves what may have sparked his imagination. In this way, even without words, every track on Western Bell is a highly personal statement that long-time Phelps fans will undoubtedly relish.
- Jason Schneider