Joel RL Phelps & the Downer Trio Inland Empires

In this sparse outing, Phelps and co. tackle a mixed bag of covers but somehow manage to maintain a consistently melancholic mood over the entire proceedings. Much like Chris Whitley's covers album of last year, Perfect Day, the songs seem to relate to each other in some way, but the individual performances often don't approach the originals. Still, for someone who has never heard Townes Van Zandt's "Our Mother The Mountain" or Iris Dement's "Calling For You," this is a good place to get them back to back. Phelps's lone original, "Now You Are Found" is a moving tribute to a loved one, and suggests that perhaps the rest of the album was crafted around it. Some more originals in this vein would have showed Phelps in a much more flattering light. As it stands, Inland Empires is a bare-bones collection that cries out for some colouring, with one truly great song standing alone. (Moneyshot)