Kelly Joe Phelps makes you want to thank your lucky stars.
After all, what are the chances of an acoustic bluesman based in the American Pacific Northwest performing regularly in southern Ontario?
It helps that Phelps, one of North America’s most accomplished acoustic blues artists, records on Steve Dawson’s Black Hen Music, based in Vancouver. It also helps that Phelps has a loyal local fan base, strengthened by performances at Guelph’s Hillside and Waterloo’s Princess Cinema, where he last appeared in early June.
After the stark experimentation of Western Ball, Phelps returns on Brother Sinner & the Whale to the kind raw, rural blues on which his reputation rests.
Produced by Dawson, the album features a stripped-down Phelps on dusty vocals and gritty bottleneck guitar at the crossroads where old-time gospel intersects with country blues. The titles — including Talkin’ to Jehovah, Pilgrim’s Reach, I’ve Been Converted, The Holy Spirit Flood and Brother Pilgrim, among others — embody and reflect meditative songs of sin and salvation, pilgrimage and redemption.
Phelps’ 10th album since 1994, Brother Sinner & the Whale ranks with his best.