At forty-something, Kelly Joe Phelps is a man who has done an exceptional job of creating his own interpretation of the acoustic blues. A careful listening to Phelps' music reveals elements of the various styles that have influenced his work; jazz, gospel, country and, naturally, the classic acoustic blues style.
Kelly Joe Phelps Saturday night performance followed an appearance by john Hammond the night before. This was interesting only due to the coincidence that the last time Phelps appeared at The Cedar, it was as the opening act for an appearance by.......John Hammond. This time however, it was an evening solely devoted to the musical talents of Kelly Joe Phelps.
Beginning promptly at 8:00 p.m., Phelps opened his show with the song "Prodigal Son." Despite playing seated, Phelps is an amazingly animated performer, rocking on the chair, twisting, turning and rocking the chair itself back on two legs. The performance included songs from all three of Phelps' previous releases; Lead Me On, Roll Away The Stone, Shine Eyed Mister Zen and his forthcoming CD, scheduled for release on July 10, 2001.
Although he is an accomplished finger-picker, Phelps really shines when he lays the guitar down on hip lap to play slide. Phelps slide guitar work was incredible on songs like "The Black Crow Keeps Flying" from Lead Me On. His vocal style is unique too,
ranging from a whispering, throaty growl to a piercing falsetto. At times Phelps sound reminded me of Jackson Browne or James Taylor, even though his overall sound is very personal and uniquely his own. Phelps ended his first set with "River Rat Jimmy" from Shine Eyed Mister Zen and a promise to return for more after a short intermission.
After everyone had the opportunity to grab some coffee, have a smoke and/or visit the restroom to freshen up, Phelps was back on stage with more great music. The second set was much like the first, featuring new material along with selections from the three CDs. "I Am The Light Of The World," a song written by Rev. Gary Davis and popularized by Jorma Kaukonen, was a particularly entertaining gospel-influenced blues. Other highlights of the second set included "Gold Teeth" from the upcoming CD; "Hard Time Killing Floor" from Lead Me On; "Capman Bootman" from Shine Eyed Mister Zen; and the emotional "If I Prove False To Thee."
After thanking the very enthusiastic audience, Phelps left the stage only to quickly return for a greatly appreciated encore. All in all, it was a great evening of music and entertainment by one of the great young purveyors of acoustic blues. I am sure most everyone left hoping that perhaps Kelly Joe Phelps would come back again soon to promote the new CD and dazzle another audience with his musical talents.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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