August 25, 2006

A man imbued with rare serenity, Kelly Joe Phelps is an all American treasure.
   There’s no showboating. He simply picks up his acoustic guitar or banjo and plays with dazzling dexterity. His observational lyrics and weathered voice make him the complete performer.
   His sixth album, and first for excellent roots label Rounder Records, blurs the edges between folk, blues, and country.
   It features touching tributes to recently departed soulmates. The ragtime instrumental Macdougal remembers Sixties folk stalwart Dave Van Ronk while the insistent Handful Of Arrows honours another quietly effective performer, the soul-blues guitarist Chris Whitley.
   Don’t try to categorise a dozen tracks by a consumate “tunesmith”…just file Kelly Joe under A-grade singer-songwriters.