The small room at the Paradiso can be a disaster for singer-songwriters. Because often that room is used as a pit stop by th party goers from the big room. But today they handled it differently. They put up chairs, Kelly Joe Phelps doesn't have to earn the attention. Everyone is waiting patiently for the man - grey beard, elegant small hat, grey jacket and a black Martin D-35 in his hand - to start playing.
From the back of the room it nearly feels like a church service in America's Deep South, and it certainly fits the atmosphere that Phelps' music evokes. A teenage girl, there with her dad - he's wearing a cowboy hat for the occasion - sits down in the middle of the aisle. Two boys, not ten years old yet find a spot next to their mum. They are super quiet. From the first chords of the opening number it becomes clear that Phelps is a special musician. He switches from his relaxed extensive sung phrases to beautiful fills on his steel string. He does this all so effortlessly and tranquilly that it's easy for the listener to kind of slip away and open up and let the story that he's telling come on in.
Phelps really should need no introduction, but he's the kind of artist who's known primarily in the americana segment and who is admired especially by guitar players; a 'musician's musician' with a modest but very faithful band of followers. As behoves a blues man, Phelps plays out most of the year, but he has also released nine albums. Before making a name for himself in the nineties, he was a bass player in the free jazz. This has enabled him to add his own interpretation to the country blues genre, which we know primarily from crackling LP's. When you watch him play, you tend to think: Ah, that's how it must have sounded.
HIs most recent release Brother Sinner & The Whale is obviously the focal point of the concert. For a large part of the set he plays a national steel guitar, which produces a pleasant whining sound. It never gets boring. And you can really feel that whisper of the wind in the room when Phelps sings 'Hard TIme They Never Go Away' : "Hear big wind blowing coming on strong/ Tearing up a good man and everything's gone wrong."
The gorgeous 'Goodnight Irene' from his third album stands out and the sprightly version of the traditional 'Moonshiner' fits in as well. "It's important to keep the tradition alive" he remarks when the song is over. And when everything is over, you really do feel kind of blessed.