March 31, 2009
garde fingerpicking here
Commonly regarded as a purveyor of acoustic guitar based delta blues
songs Kelly Joe Phelps had a background of sorts in jazz. Not just any
old jazz however. Apparently he camped in that niche occupied by the
new jazzers of the 1960s, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane and all that
jazz (pardon for that). For all of its apparent difficulty free jazz
in the sixties always had one foot firmly placed in the old spirituals
and blues hollerin of days gone by and here, on a totally instrumental
foray, Phelps plays folk blues with a touch of avant garde and occasional
glimpses of yesteryear rags and hollers.
Spare and unadorned (Phelps plays 6 and 12 string and lap steel guitar
and an occasional bell) this is not an easy album to listen to. When
a tune taps into a melody one thinks of the likes of John Fahey or even
Leo Kottke but throughout the album when the listeners’ foot is
in danger of tapping Phelps throws in a discordant note or adopts a weird
Some of the tunes are jazz improvisations; “American Exchange Hotel” is
as if Barney Kessel was being haunted by Bill Frissell. Other tunes such
as the title track and “Hattie’s Hat” are rooted
in old time pickin’ tunes (at times very like Fahey) but as they
progress odd and faintly disturbing intrusions (a plucked string here,
a slight change in tempo) throw the tune off kilter.
As stated a record that requires a degree of concentration but repeated
listens eventually pull one in until it acquires an almost mystical quality.
As an example “The Jenny Spin,” initially an aimless slurry
of notes with twinkling bells grows until it sounds like the missing
link between Zabriski Point’s hallucinatory vision and Paris, Texas’s
aimless Zen wanderings. Even better is “East To Kansas” (the
tittle inevitable recalls Dorothy in Oz) where the delicate (and again
skewed) guitar picking eventually is resolved in an organic rumble of
acoustic drummings on the instrument.
Reviewers Rating: 8 out of 10