Published Jan 01, 2006Kelly Joe Phelps won't be pigeonholed. He's moving too quickly. His fifth album, Slingshot Professionals, finds him further removed from where Sky Like A Broken Clock left off. And as Sky added more colours to his palette, with the addition of a bass and drums, Slingshot positions him further into the role of bandleader. His guitar focus has shifted towards the creative process inherent in songwriting, triggered by words and language and the musical dialogue that results when musicians improvise on stage. This remains the backbone of his recording style. This spirit of experimentation also makes it no surprise that Phelps has forged a deep connection with Canadian "strang" pioneers Zubot and Dawson, whose flamboyant and spontaneous approach to music, and their prodigious talents, mirror and complement his own. As Phelps guested on Chicken Scratch, they supported him on Slingshot, together with noted jazz colourist Bill Frisell. Zubot and Dawson opened the show, joined by band members Eliot Polsky (drums, percussion) and Keith Lowe (acoustic bass), ripping through a twisted, yet virtuosic, set of "born of bluegrass" originals. A proud papa, Phelps arrived for the second set and they gave birth to a new-found genre of roots music that merged blues and folk with rich elements of country and jazz. The lap-slide master's emphasis has clearly moved towards his gut-wrenched vocals, coupled with the significant chemistry shared between the three key players. Clearly pumped about this new marriage, Phelps showcased much of Slingshot but graciously revisited his past, delivering "Catman Bootman," "River Rat Jimmy" and "Clementine" as his band redecorated each song with brilliant, vibrant hues. Wonderful new compositions like "Jericho" and "Cardboard Box of Batteries" confirmed his power as a vocalist able to coax a roar from a whisper, wincing and slurring like a man possessed, while each band member embellished every line with equal parts heart and stamina.