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Event Archive - Delta Blues Sensation: Kelly Joe Phelps

Sun. July 5th 2009 Hermann's Jazz Club Victoria BC (All Ages)
8pm - 10:30pm doors at 7pm
$20 Advance / $23 Door
Tickets at: Lyles Place, Ditch Records 635 Johnson St., High Tide Entertainment
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Hermann's Jazz Club, 753 View St., Victoria
Doors 6:30pm - Showtime 8pm
Tickets: $20.00 Advance + s/c / $23 Door
Available at: Lyle's Place 770 Yates St., Ditch Records 635 Johnson St.
and online at

Kelly Joe Phelps websites: &

At some point, the rearview mirror gets too fat. So crowded, so saturated with the recorded miles and miles of what's back there, it just falls off the windshield. Then you turn and go home.

After a decade and a half of traveling the world – occasionally with a band, but usually alone with a guitar – Kelly Joe Phelps’ rearview might've fallen off the windshield. Western Bell, his eighth full-length album, could be the soundtrack to his first mirror-cleaning sit-down in a long while. Some stuff winds up on the mantle (the photo of the Montana ranch where he helped herd cattle); some stuff winds up tattooed on his arms (a whole lot of names, or the pirate that says, "Be Kind").

Long-hailed for his virtuosic and courageous playing, these eleven instrumentals for solo guitar feel different somehow. It’s as though the audience has been removed from the equation – not momentarily ignored, but removed entirely –- leaving the compelling sensation of peering through a keyhole. "Where's the slide?" they used to yell – really yell – at the guy up there playing some of the most unstraightest straight guitar ever set down. "Play the slide! Shine-eyed!" Well, after a four-record slide hiatus, a few cuts ("Blowing Dust 40 Miles," the vast "The Jenny Spin," and "Little Family") feature Phelps laying it down horizontally again, but lawd knows not for those folks. More sonically investigative than ever, and simply wrought with emotion, the results are spellbinding.

Technically speaking, the vast majority of the numbers are improvised on the spot, some in tunings so backasswards that only the most basic elements of a "guitar piece" remain – vibrato, the occasional alternating thumb, the clack of a bar on a steel string. In these instances, Phelps seems to deconstruct the very engine that's carried him around the world, lay the guts on the floor, and set to rebuilding a machine precisely in tune with the necessaries. No drag.

And herein we find the shining black center of Western Bell, of Phelps himself perhaps, sifting through the engrained muscle memory of years of playing, the record collection, the poems, women, other on-ramps. Incredibly personal, these ruminations reflect a soul busy coming to terms with its scope and parameters, past & future. Visions of big sky, ant hills in fast-forward, her laugh when she drank.

Others, like the curtain-parting title cut, or the love-drunk stumble of "Hattie's Hat," are compositions so fully formed, so flecked with the ghosts of American Music, you'd swear they've existed for generations. Sinatra could slide into "Murdo," & Gershwin could have written it. Leadbelly, Bill Evans, from stomps to carnivals, and all with mojo – as quick as an allusion is recognized, it's gone again. Beautiful, innovative, and inspired.

There are only a handful of truly seminal solo guitar recordings in circulation, ones that forever transport both audience and genre. Add one more to the list. Here is Kelly Joe Phelps' Western Bell.her talk about Kelly Joe:

Steve Earle: "Kelly Joe Phelps plays, sings, and writes the blues. HOLD UP before you lock that in- forget about songs in a twelve bar three chord progression with a two line repeat and answer rhyme structure - though he can certainly do that when he wants to. I'm talking about a feeling, a smoky, lonesome, painful - yet somehow comforting groove that lets you know that you are not alone - even when you're blue. Play on brother."

Bill Frisell: "I first became aware of Kelly Joe Phelps when my daughter (who was 9 or 10 at the time) brought home a cd ('Lead Me On') from the Vancouver Folk Festival. "You might like this, Dad" she said. Boy was she right. I've heard Kelly Joe mention that he's been inspired by people like Roscoe Holcomb, Robert Pete Williams, Dock Boggs, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others. He seems to have absorbed all this (and all kinds of other stuff as well) and come back with something all his own. Sounds like he's coming from the inside out. The bottom up. He's not just playing 'AT' the music or trying to recreate or imitate something that's happened in the past. He seems to have tapped into the artery somehow. There's a lot going on in between and behind the notes. Mystery. He's been an inspiration to me."

Tim O'Brien: "When I heard Kelly Joe the first time, I was amazed how it all made so much sense. His music is a wide world with three hundred and sixty degrees of influence.... Kelly Joe is a musical slight of hand master. He pulls world wide sounds out of his guitar."


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Kelly Joe Phelps

Kelly Joe Phelps press release/bio for Slingshot Professionals More than just an awesomely talented musician, Kelly Joe Phelps speaks to the soul of each and every listener.? ? Cameron Crowe ?Phelps? songwriting mirrors the subtlety that distinguishes his guitar work? His songs are also infused with poignancy, passion and spirituality.? ? The W... more info