The Telegraph (UK)
Mahalia Jackson once said: "When you sing gospel you have a feeling there is a cure for what's wrong" and a spirit of optimism shines through the new album Brother Sinner & The Whale from Kelly Joe Phelps.
Phelps, the 52-year-old from Portland, Oregon, has an interesting folk music background, having played alongside Tom O'Brien, Martin Simpson and the late, great Townes Van Zandt among many others, and religious themes have long infused his work.
His new solo album - produced by the experienced Steve Dawson - sees him put aside his slide guitar for acoustic finger picking blues interpretations of his own gospel compositions, inspired in part by the Book Of Jonah. His spell as a jazz bassist shows in a careful constructed tempo to the songs which have a sweet fluency. All 12 are of a consistently high standard and sung with feeling.
The folk-blues of Mississippi John Hurt and Rev Gary Davis is a clear inspiration (and the playing of Chet Atkins) and apart from the traditional I've Been Converted, songs such as Goodbye To Sorrow and Guide Me, O thou Great Jehovah sound authentically traditional. Sometimes A Drifter is a lovely bluesy song and Brother Pilgrim is a dazzling instrumental which shows off his fine guitar technique.