February 2005

"Like the sound of some impossible invention built from theremin, pedal steel, saw, omnichord, sitar and the whir of hummingbirds, the sound of Kelly Joe Phelps' guitar has no derivation and no blueprint, save his own soul. He sings with an urgent, slurred whisper (like he hears the law outside the juke-joint door), and he writes songs -- sometimes visionary, mostly sustained by the holy blues -- with creative gravitas that's soaked in all the experiences of a life deeply lived. One doesn't expect such lyrical and vocal talent from virtuoso guitar improvisers. Like Tom Waits and Townes Van Zandt, Phelps reconfigures the blues with every pluck and breath. Like no one else filed under "folk," he creates his own tradition."