Kelly Joe Phelps' third CD for Rykodisc marks a change of direction. Phelps has moved from solo acoustic blues, heavy on the slide, to a more folk/roots style in a band setting (mostly drums and bass). Given the critical acclaim afforded his last two albums, and the fact that he has basically done away with his trademark sound, it is a bold step. Only time will tell if it is the right one.
The change in style is evident from the opening track, "Taylor John," which is a steady rolling song that suggests that the changes have not affected the quality of Phelps' playing and songwriting. The band setting works quite well, especially given the fact that they had little or no chance to rehearse together beforehand, and the album was cut live in the studio.
On "Beggar's Oil" comes closest to the work that he earned his reputation for on his previous Rykodisc albums. Phelps shows that although he may have changed, he is not going to abandon his resonator, which he fingerpicks here in fine style. This is one of the few places on the album where you can feel some real soul coming through in Phelps'
playing. Elsewhere most of it is nice and relaxed, but it just sort of passes by, without ever really engaging the listener.
"Sky Like A Broken Clock" is something of a strange beast. Everything that appears on the album is well done, but it in the end most of it just seems a little bit samey. It is not clear whether Phelps is playing it safe or not--maybe the next album will provide the necessary evidence--or whether this is where he really wants to be. In places the sound is a bit like some of Bert Jansch's recent "Crimson Moon" album, and in other places he
sounds a bit like Anders Osborne without the soul. Overall though, the album just seems to sort of roll along, without ever really triggering any real emotions in the listener. So, nice enough, but there is nothing that really makes you sit up and take notice. Phelps fans can find out more from the appropriate web sites for the label (www.rykodisc.com) and Phelps (www.kellyjoephelps.com) before making their mind up on this one.
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