September 2006

Songwriting with fresh wrinkles on Tunesmith Retrofit

Now in his late forties, Kelly Joe Phelps continues to evolve, as both a musician and songwriter, while operating deep in the most conservative of folk-blues traditions.
Having long established himself as one of the key acoustic slide guitarists of his generation, the soft-spoken boy from Portland, Oregon has more recently turned his attention primarily to singing and songwriting, a trend which continues, albeit with some fresh wrinkles, on Tunesmith Retrofit. “I’ve been waiting a long time/to get these stories out.” he sings on Crow’s Nest, his soulful drawl accompanied by his own nimble finger-picking and a campfire violin. On Scapegoat, a brief instrumental track, he plays a breakneck banjo part, which incorporates touches of blues and even a hint of flamenco, while on Big Shaky, he settles into the backporch territory of JJ Cale, this time adding sprightly touches of melodica. It is another thoughtful collection of tunes from the American byways, performed with the effortless grace of a master.