Kelly Joe Phelps
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Brother Sinner and the Whale by Kelly Joe Phelps
It’s as thin as the edge of a razor, the road separating Heaven from Hell, sin from salvation, redemption from despair. It’s a lonely road to go down and like the old gospel says, you’ve got to walk it for yourself. Kelly Joe Phelps has been doing a lot of soul searching since his last record ‘Western Bell’ came out in 2009. Three years later, his journey has wound its way to a recording studio in Vancouver adn Kelly Joe has once again beaten a path to Steve Dawson’s door with a new batch of songs tucked into his satchel that reflect both the new insights gained along the journey as well as things that have been dropped by the wayside. Together Phelps and the veteran producer embarked on a three way recording odyssey that has resulted in ‘Brother and the Whale’ a record that may very well come to be recognized as the best of an already very impressive body of work.
Since his debut album ‘Lead Me On came out in 1994 the Pacific Northwest singer has written and performed some of the most compelling slide guitar in a style that both evoked the sounds of the ancients and pointed towards the new possibilities for the instrument, Kelly Joe’s music seemed to originate in another time as he sand with the voice of an old soul weary with experience, yet excited with all of the prospects that life brings.
With song titles like ‘Talking to Jehovah’, ‘I’ve been Converted’ and ‘The Holy Spirit Flood’, there’s no escaping that something has grown and changed in Kelly Joe’s world. Phelps explains some of the motivation behind the new songs. “When I found a way to allow myself to open up to creative impulse this is what was staring at me in the face and I did not want to say no to anything. This is going to be referred to as a Gospel record, I suppose.
It’ll sound contemporary because of the way I play ad write. But thematically, I’m basing my compositional approach on old styles like the old blues and folk guys played.
“Taken together, these songs are like a book. First there’s ‘Good-bye to Sorrow’ and it’s like the foreward and all the other songs are like chapters in that book. ‘Hard Times Have Never Gone Away; says just that because you believe it doesn’t mean that like is going to stop being hard or even change in its intensity. Very few things are ever likely to change overnight’’.
While that may be true it’s still amazing to consider how three days spent in a recording studio have allowed Phelps to redefine who he is as an artist with a solo record that builds on all of his lyrical, compositional, and technical strengths to form the best album of his career
Listen to ‘Sinner and the Whale’ and you’ll certainly agree.