March 2003

Blues Crafted With Care

KELLY JOE PHELPS has been punching through the boundaries of who he is supposed to be with every album. I first knew him as the religiously inclined, prodigious country blues guitarist of 1996's Roll Away The Stone, itself a progression from his jazz beginnings. The three albums since have thrown up personal, modern blues songwriting, then a turn into something uncategorisable: literary songs of hurt played in a tight but improvised spirit by a top notch band. It's a right-angled career turn typical of two musicians Phelps loves, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, and of Phelps' own questing, wrestling approach to musical and spiritual questions that made even his "purest" blues more than pastiche.