Already accepted as one of the premier blues guitarists of his era, Kelly Joe Phelps here shifts focus, in his own words, "away from music heavily driven by guitar to music that's more driven by the song" - though there's no readily discernible increase or diminution in either capacity from recent albums such as last year's live set Tap The Red Cane Whirlwind. The songs are still blues-based evocations of hard times and painful emotions strewn with Phelps's customary line in distinctive, fresh metaphors, for example in "Spanish Hands", and the musicianship is still awesomely impressive. The arrangements are subtly graded for solo, duo, trio or quartet, with his tribute to Dave Van Ronk, "MacDougal", offered initially as a ragtime guitar instrumental, then as a piano-led band piece. Phelps's sympathy for life's cast-offs is well placed in "Tight To The Jar", a hobo's lament of unalloyed honesty, while his deft and delicate fingerpicking on "Plumb Line" underscores one of the more knowing notions of the function of the blues, when he advises us to "Laugh hard till hard is gone/And that old trouble run."
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