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Byron Shire
June 16, 2024

Have a Whale of a time with Kelly

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Kelly Joe Phelps, Mullum Civic Hall, Saturday

Kelly Joe Phelps has been doing a lot of soul searching since his last record, Western Bell, came out in 2009.

Three years later, his journey has wound its way to a recording studio in Vancouver, and Kelly Joe has once again landed on Steve Dawson’s doorstep with a new batch of songs that reflect both the new insights gained along the journey as well as things that have been dropped by the wayside. Together, Phelps and the veteran producer embarked on a three-day recording odyssey that marked their fourth collaboration since Dawson played slide on Slingshot Professionals. The result is Brother Sinner and the Whale, a record that may very well come to be recognised as the best of an already very impressive body of work.

Since his debut album Lead Me On came out in 1994, the Pacific Northwest-based singer and songwriter has written and performed some of the most compelling slide guitar-based music ever recorded. Though he spent his early years playing free jazz, he has never strayed too far from the roots music world that has become his passion.

‘My music is a reflection of all the music I loved and steeped myself in. There’s a space and openness in rural music that makes sense to me.’

Playing a lap slide, Kelly Joe’s music seemed to originate in another time as he sang with the voice of an old soul, weary with experience, yet excited with all of the prospects that life brings.

Phelps’s attention gradually shifted from instrumental virtuosity towards an emphasis on songwriting. Unexpectedly, a renewed inspiration came through a re-examination of his Christian roots, resulting in the birth of a whole new set of songs.

Phelps’s lyrics fuse poetry from the Book of Jonah and the vintage gospel blues of Mississippi John Hurt with aspects of the early gospel work of Bill and Charlie to create what surely must be the most literary gospel songs recorded since Bob Dylan’s incendiary Christian albums came out three decades ago.

Kelly Joe Phelps with support act Daniel Champagne at the Mullumbimby Civic Hall on Saturday. Tix: Pre $35 (+b/f) / Door $40. Avail online at www.kupromotions.com.au, Mullum Books, Barebones Bangalow, Byron Music,
All Music & Vision (Lismore & Ballina).
Doors 7.15pm / Show 8pm.
Food by Coffee Oasis.

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