Pennsylvania Daily News
Very few people can really pull off a true solo album, but the bluesy slide-guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps is definitely one of them. On his latest, “Brother Sinner & the Whale,” Phelps handles all the performing duties — which is pretty much just his guitar and vocals — but delivers a complexity in this simplicity that needs to be heard to be appreciated. Fans of Kelly Joe’s past works will readily attest to the fact that the boy can play a mean guitar, but here he manages to do more with less. All 12 cuts here are religiously/spiritually based and, with titles like “Down to the Praying Ground,” “Brother Pilgrim,” and “I’ve Been Converted,” you can tell that there have been some big changes in Phelps life. But far from being preach-y or pompous, “Brother Sinner” is more like a shared celebration between Phelps and the listener — showing how happy he is with his current beliefs and how calming those waters have allowed him to be when performing his music. The lyrics recall the vintage gospel blues of performers like Mississippi John Hurt with a bit of the Monroe Brothers thrown in for good measure while at the same time, Phelps guitar playing continues to broaden its reach as he continues to explore sounds that would not sound out of place on records by John Fahey or Reverend Gary Davis. Once again, Phelps has managed to defy any hope of pigeon-holing his style and has done so with grace and ease.