By C. Lizaire
September 5, 2006
Sometimes what really makes
a record shine is not so much all that is crowded in,
but what is taken away. A beautiful pearl of graceful guitar work,
stunning lyrical imagery and fluid storytelling, Kelly
Joe Phelps’ sixth and latest installment, “Tunesmith
Retrofit” exemplifies the power of simplicity.
Breathing forth from the traditions of country-blues
and folk music, “Tunesmith” marks
a departure from, “music heavily driven by guitar
to music that’s more driven by the song.” The
Portland, Ore.-based musician admits, “… the
record is stripped back in relation to the last two studio
Phelps’ tender voice has a pleasantly gritty tinge
and mirrors the contents of a wise, passionate soul.
The opener, “Crowe’s Nest” is a wonderfully
crafted love song with lyrics alive
with poetic significance. “Spanish Hands” another
captivating ballad, paints the essence of a remarkable
woman at once “a gentle bell” and “a
sunflower.” On instrumentals such as the easy ragtime
gem, “MacDougal,” and title track “Tunesmith
Retrofit,” Phelps’ instrumental eloquence
is charming. Also to be noted is “Scapegoat” the
scorching stringed-flight and a return for Phelps to
one of his early loves: the unmistakable banjo.
Remarkable and inspirational, “Tunesmith Retrofit” is
an artistic masterpiece in the constant evolution of
Kelly Joe Phelps.