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Kelly Joe Phelps

SKY LIKE A BROKEN CLOCK (Ryko) • Kelly Joe Phelps

A record of considerable genius, and magic. Phelps is an original, a brilliant guitarist and now a lyricist and storyteller with whom to reckon. His roots are long, Coltrane and Coleman, Dock Boggs and Roscoe Holcomb, Bert Jansch and all the many masters of the Delta blues.

But you will only feel their spirit, his music is his own. Known and highly regarded previously for solo recordings featuring his slide guitar mastery, Sky Like a Broken Clock is a bold departure in several ways. First and foremost, it incorporates the ensemble wisdom and imagination of Morphine's Billy Conway on drums and percussion and Larry Taylor on string bass, best known for his work with Tom Waits. Using this rhythm section was the creative thought of producer and Ryko President George Howard, who also wrote beautiful notes allowing the listener into the spirit of the sessions.

The tunes are all one or two takes apiece, the way it should be. Recorded all together, the only true way to capture the spirit of the musicians involved. And there is a great spirit here, visceral and enlightened. Along with this prodigious trio, engineer David Henry added some of his always noteworthy cello work, Tom West laid down vital Hammond tracks, Dinty Childs contributed Pump Organ and Accordion, and Tom Fitting plays harmonica.

The other ways that this CD represents a departure is that much of the guitar work here is not on lap played slide, but fingerstyle country blues of equal measure and breadth. The man's one of our best acoustic masters, indeed Acoustic Guitar magazine selected him as one of the 15 most influential artists of the decade. Finally, this recording marks a compositional departure from his previous work. These songs are impressionistic vignettes and portraits of characters who are riding the rails of reality. The tunes are beautiful, Kelly Joe Phelps' playing is utterly fabulous, and the musicians and the session are truly inspired. Get this record, and find out more about this essential American artist and his previous work at his website.  • FG

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