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 efforts…”

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.