Kelly Joe Phelps Tunesmith Retrofit

This American singer-songwriter-guitarist has earned a loyal following for his original take on blues and folk traditions. After a series of acclaimed albums on Rykodisc (including Sky Like A Broken Clock and Slingshot Professionals) he switches to famed roots label Rounder here. The result is more conventional than his adventurous earlier albums, as Phelps seeks to be acknowledged more as a tunesmith than a guitar playing virtuoso. That mission is just partially successful, as it is the purity of his picking that again first catches the ear. It is showcased on the lovely instrumental "MacDougal,” reportedly an homage to folk great Dave Van Ronk, and on his banjo playing on "Scapegoat” and "Handful of Arrows” (a first on record for Phelps). With repeated listens, the strength of the writing here does reveal itself, especially on "Red Light Nickel” and "Tight To The Jar,” while the slightly slurred vocals have their own gentle appeal. One criticism would be that there is not enough dynamic variety in the writing, but Phelps’s style is an attractive one. Fans of John Martyn, Leo Kottke and Bert Jansch should certainly investigate. (Rounder)