There’s a time for conversion and a time for preaching. In Kelly Joe Phelps’ case, it’s time for both.
This isn’t necessarily a spiritual conversion we’re speaking of, but a switch from his signature lap steel to a bottleneck slide. There’s also a move from secular topics to that good ol’ time religion. “Talkin’ To Jehova,” the lead track from the upcoming Brother Sinner & The Whale (Black Hen Music, street date, August 21) sets the spiritual tone for the record, with a spiritual Phelps conjured up himself.
Though he might have changed his playing technique for this record, there’s nothing lost in the ease with he’s able to deliver those fingerpicked multi-layered harmonies. Blessed with a weary but warm vocal, Phelps since his 1994 debut Lead Me On, blends his voice and guitar into a single instrument so proficiently, it’s hard to hear them apart. When he talks to Jehova(h), his National Steel is talking right along with him.
Some Appalachia has found its way into his fully fingered fretting, and the intimate sound he’s able to get from an upright guitar speaks to the personal relationship with Yahweh he sings of, fully combining the music with the message. An early Sunday morning peacefulness with a later Sunday morning message, Kelly Joe Phelps’ “Talkin’ To Jehova” soothes the soul of believers and non-believers alike with his seasoned, assured delivery. And a whole lot of faith in following his muse, all the way up to the alter.