Kelly Joe Phelps

Although there are certainly more singer songwriters in the world today than there ever were before, greatness and originality are still as hard to find and precious as ever they were.

But there are people around making truly great singer songwriter records and acoustic driven music, and you'll find a number of them in Puremusic, if you check out the clips. One of the artists we're most impressed by is Kelly Joe Phelps, because of his unique voice as a writer and a player, and a singer. His earliest recordings were very guitar oriented, even pyrotechnical at times. He came to acoustic blues based music through the jazz door, that's not a common way in. From the top, he's been an artist who blurs the boundaries between folk and blues, and jazz. (God bless him.) He didn't play an obvious version of any one of the three consistently.

We reviewed his excellent CD from 2001, Sky Like a Broken Clock, and later the companion EP of alternate takes and unreleased tracks, Beggar's Oil. Those were memorable sessions that featured the artist live in the room with Larry Taylor, who's played bass with Tom Waits, and the drummer from Morphine, Billy Conway.

Since that time, KJP has entered into a relationship with Lee Townsend of Songline/Tonefield Productions in Berkeley, CA. That looks to be a fascinating and inspired team out there. Along with KJP, Lee also both produces and manages Bill Frisell and Joey Baron, both jazz leaders well known for projects that also run afield of jazz. Although most of Lee Townsend's many productions are in jazz, he himself goes far afield, making records with singer songwriters like Noe Venable, Paul Sprawl, and Stephen Yerkey, among others. But all the artists he works with are extremely high caliber, and all originals.

This blessed collaboration of Kelly Joe Phelps and Lee Townsend has produced a whole new sound for the artist, I think one that will increase his profile. The mix is different, a little less dense, and easier to walk into the middle of. Two different tracking crews were used. One includes three members of Canada's Zubot and Dawson band: Jesse Zubot on fiddle and mandolin, Steve Dawson on Weissenborn, and Andrew Downing on bass. Chris Gestrin plays organ and accordion and Petra Haden sings beautiful backgrounds on a couple of tracks. Scott Amendola (whom we first encountered on the Charlie Hunter records) plays fabulous drums and percussion throughout. And on two of the cuts, Bill Frisell on guitar and Steve Lowe on bass help create pure magic, to this writer's ears.

Along with being a formidable vocalist and a rare guitarist, the artist has become one of the most unique and profound songwriters on the scene. We caught up with him early in his morning at the Center in Banff, Alberta, where he'd played a concert the previous night. His new tour had just begun.  continue to interview