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Kelly Koe Phelps

BEGGAR'S OIL EP (Ryko) • Kelly Joe Phelps

Especially for the many of us who enjoyed KJP's last disc, Sky Like a Broken Clock, this EP is a tasty morsel indeed. It consists of an opening track from that CD, "Beggar's Oil," with the artist rippin a very sweet country blues number with his sinuous and serpentine lyrics. They're down to earth in one way, and right outta left field in the other, which I imagine is a reasonable portrait of the artist's personality, if I don't miss my guess.

His apparent and conjured eccentricities notwithstanding, what he always brings to the table is a profound and incandescent ability on his instrument, a trancelike, passionate approach and the smoky vocal of the volatile misunderstood, the lusty monk better off in a cabin in the woods.

Anyhow, this cool EP is largely unreleased cuts and alternate "band" versions of the tunes on Sky Like A Broken Clock. That was such a magic session, that every second of it should be available to fans of the man (and perhaps every second of it is, now). There are some very extemporaneous jamming moments here the like of which are rarely heard on record in the singer songwriter domain these days, smokin. A great bass player told me the other day that he didn't care for recorded music, only liked live music. But this is live music, palpably live, with tape rolling. I think he'd like this, all right.

Phelps plays with real muscularity, a truly commanding grip on his axe. Tell you what, I think I am preferring this to Sky, it sounds like it's happening right here in the room I'm listening in. It's more raw, it's more real. KJP sounds like a guy whose chops don't ever move far from red hot, sounds like someone who plays a lot, every day.

This is way better than I thought it would be, and I'm a fan. The players are so on the case, so tied to the artist, I can't hear them, only their instruments. He's playing fingerstyle throughout, and it's traditionally hard to mix bass and drums with a fingerstyle player, because they tend to eat up the space his rhythmic thumb takes, when the guitar in question is acoustic. The amazing clarity here has a lot to do with engineer David Henry (himself a brilliant musician) and producer George Howard. But the rest is all the players, Larry Taylor on bass, Billy Conway on drums, and Tom West on organ.

And when the cat plays slide, it's got a sacred sound. I've got a very low threshold for predictable slide guitar, can't take it. But his tone and choice of notes always surprises and satisfies. Oh, and there's one live cut at the end from a Santa Cruz gig that will blow your mind. Check out the clip of "Lass of Loch Royale" on our Listen page. I couldn't believe it when the people clapped at the end, that he was doing that at a show...

A very enigmatic and magnetic character. An outstanding musician. Buy this record, it will inspire you. • FG

view cover       listen to clips       kellyjoephelps.com

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