Kelly Joe Phelps, with a debt of gratitude to Mississippi John Hurt.
Up in the Pacific Northwest (Washington State), KJP’s father not only taught him to play the drums and the piano, but he also taught him about folk songs. KJP learnt to play the guitar when he was 12 years old and he was a big fan of free jazz, a popular movement at that time. He even took lessons from the movement’s most important representatives, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The turn-around came when he heard blues artists such as Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams. He started writing his own songs in 1990, and released his first CD in 1994. Eight more followed on a pretty regular basis (about 1 every 2 years) until 2009, when love drove him into the arms of singer-songwriter Corinne West. They toured together for a couple of years and released a duo EP (Magnetic Skyline). The break-up with Corinne was followed by a time of reflection and a return to his Christian roots, which inspired a number of gorgeous songs. The result is the beautiful, understated singing and playing on a totally solo CD ‘Brother Sinner and the Whale’. Kelly brings us beautiful country-blues gospel, 12 numbers, half of them played on the National slide guitar and the other half on the Martin D-35 (‘a black Johnny Cash model’), 10 songs with lyrics, 2 instrumentals. Material that without a doubt can be delivered live without any great discrepancies because after all on the CD, Kelly Joe does everything himself. The kinship with the phenomenal country-blues artist Mississippi John Hurt is particularly evident on this CD. We can expect a number of subtle, understated concerts from a reborn Kelly Joe Phelps, who knows how to play and sing the country-blues like nobody else does.
Fred Schmale for Real Roots Café