133

Kelly Joe Phelps: Sky Like a Broken Clock

By

Sign in to view read count
Today’s blues is often characterized by eccentric stylistic deviations, sometimes only leaving trace elements of the roots. It is not uncommon to hear blues that is devoid of a bar structure and repetition. Ordered melody and bridges replace recurring chord patterns. The untrained vocals that often exemplify blues lyricism are relinquished for refined, more calculated tones of expression. Like other improvisation-based music forms, blues is moving in a linear fashion.

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps is taking the music by force, convincing us that it belongs to him, building upon the sounds with sharp inventiveness and smart lyrics. Phelps’ first three albums were delivered using no more than the voice and a masterful slide guitar technique. Sky Like a Broken Clock is an expansion of Phelps’ songwriting, to say the least. The bulk of the record is a live-in-the-studio-sans-overdubs trio recording, with Larry Taylor on bass and Billy Conway on drums. The accompanists have more than convincing experience in this type of setting; Taylor plays regularly with Tom Waits, and many will recognize Conway for his captivating work with the avant-rock trio, Morphine. The fact that the music was recorded with minimal takes is more than impressive, as this record marks their first occasion performing together.

The first thing you notice about Phelps’ music is his intelligent songwriting. Thought provoking lyrics are balanced by creative arrangements, and Phelps guitar style is its own breed. In a voice that is part salty crooner, part Lyle Lovett, Phelps sings about perseverance (“Taylor John”), infidelity (“Sally Ruby”) and nostalgia (“Flash Cards”), all to hypnotic effect, as if a reader is absorbed in the rhythm of an unaffected story. The music is often a surreal slap in the face, as in “Clementine,” where moody progressions are coupled with unsettling turns. “Easier is the money for giving in/ Like an aging whore/ Watching her own body turn into a lump of clay/ Than fighting for someone to stay.”

Perhaps Phelps’ uniqueness comes from his influences. Once referred to as “the John Coltrane of slide guitar,” the substance of his music is derived from the incongruity of expectations. Then maybe he’s just his own dog.

Sky Like a Broken Clock is both haunting and mesmerizing, and Phelps’ is voice that needs to be heard.


Track Listing: Taylor John/ Clementine/ Sally Ruby/ Beggar

Personnel: Kelly Joe Phelps (guitar, vocals, resonator guitar); Larry Taylor (string bass); Billy Conway (drums, percussion); Dinty Childs (pump organ, accordion); David Henry (cello); Jim Fitting (harmonica)

| Record Label: Rykodisc | Style: Blues


Shop

More Articles

Read The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture CD/LP/Track Review The Angel and the Brute Sing Songs of Rapture
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Coldest Second Yesterday CD/LP/Track Review Coldest Second Yesterday
by John Sharpe
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Follow Your Heart CD/LP/Track Review Follow Your Heart
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 25, 2017
Read The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door CD/LP/Track Review The Sound of Surprise: Live at the Side Door
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Chicago II CD/LP/Track Review Chicago II
by Doug Collette
Published: February 25, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read "Solstice" CD/LP/Track Review Solstice
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 3, 2016
Read "Time Never Pauses" CD/LP/Track Review Time Never Pauses
by Budd Kopman
Published: April 10, 2016
Read "Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations" CD/LP/Track Review Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations
by Mark Corroto
Published: April 13, 2016
Read "Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band Live" CD/LP/Track Review Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band Live
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: March 14, 2016
Read "Detour" CD/LP/Track Review Detour
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 26, 2016
Read "Panola County Spirit" CD/LP/Track Review Panola County Spirit
by James Nadal
Published: March 4, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!