Kelly Joe Phelps: Brother Sinner and the Whale
There’s more than a whiff of weirdness around this album. After a decade of adamantly refusing to play his signature slide guitar, the ramblin’ man of the Pacific Northwest chose this collection of songs to return to his bottleneckin’ roots.
While Phelps has always been a deep running river, song titles like “I’ve Been Converted” and “Talkin To Jehovah”, delivered without a sliver of irony, signal spiritual doings afoot in the Phelpsian world.
To get the job done right, KJ returned to longtime collabo Steve Dawson in Vancouver’s The Henhouse Studio for this squirrel ass tight collection.
This is the other kind of summer album, the one with the dust in your throat and sweat in your eyes and the road ahead shimmering silver in the heat is really no escape.
It’d be easy to tag it as Phelps goes Gospel, if it were not for the fact he remains one of the finest finger pickers about and that alone informs every song he touches in very specific ways. Very much a case of the singer not the songs.
Fans are already calling this his best work ever, high praise when you recall previous efforts have made fans of U2’s The Edge and Steve Earle, to mention but two. The new songs are beautifully crafted acoustic gems, layered with nuance and so captivating melodically the message is often lost in the music.
It’s worth repeated listens to catch all the implications of Phelps’ lyrics. F’rinstance, when he sings “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah” it isn’t so much a plea as an appraisal of the experiences and expectations which lead him to that place. Scattered like jewels and teardrops throughout, Phelps masterful magic with an acoustic geetar.