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Kelly Joe Phelps Beggars Oil EP Review

EP. Released 2002.  

BBC Review

Country Blues as parched and mysterious as the desert landscape which inhabits these...

Chris Jones 2002

Beloved of various luminaries such as Bill Frisell and Steve Earle, Kelly Joe Phelps' time is surely due now. Mentioning these two names helps to draw the line that has seen Phelps grow since the early nineties from a more jazz influenced performer to a true star of country blues. As with many great artists, the growth of his experience and confidence allow a zen-like simplicity to pervade his work, stripping it back to the primal roots of such heroes as Mississippi Fred McDowell and Skip James. His guitar style may be less flashy than of late but this merely denotes a man who's not afraid to remove the frills to let these abstracted songs' messages seep through.

This EP is a limited edition companion to last year's excellent Sky Like A Broken Clock and indeed, the title track, an unaccompanied evocation of dust and voodoo, is from that album. Recorded at the same sessions, five of the six tracks offer sparse, parched instrumentation with Larry Taylor's ominous string bass to the fore, while Kelly Joe intones tales of dogs, deserts, dark clouds and ill fortune. This is brooding, adult music with parallels in Ry Cooder, John Fahey and even John Martyn, dripping in metaphor ("Don Quixote's Windmill", and "Frankenstein Party Of Three: Your Table Is Ready") and steeped in tradition. The final track, a live version of the traditional number "Lass Of Loch Royale (If I Prove False To Thee)", demonstrates how his grasp of musical history in no way overshadows the ability to make a song his own. Simply, this record brings us true tales from the barren outposts of the human heart. A genuine original.

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