Search - Kelly Joe Phelps :: Sky Like a Broken Clock

Sky Like a Broken Clock
Kelly Joe Phelps
Sky Like a Broken Clock
Genres: Blues, Pop
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1

Since 1994, when he made his debut with Lead Me On, Kelly Joe Phelps has reinvented the slide guitar to his own specifications. This isn't to shortchange his superb, smoky voice or distinctive tunecraft. Still, it was h...  more »


Larger Image
Listen to Samples

CD Details

All Artists: Kelly Joe Phelps
Title: Sky Like a Broken Clock
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 1
Label: Rykodisc
Original Release Date: 1/1/2001
Re-Release Date: 7/10/2001
Genres: Blues, Pop
Styles: Contemporary Blues, Acoustic Blues, Modern Blues
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPCs: 014431061226, 014431061264

Synopsis's Best of 2001
Since 1994, when he made his debut with Lead Me On, Kelly Joe Phelps has reinvented the slide guitar to his own specifications. This isn't to shortchange his superb, smoky voice or distinctive tunecraft. Still, it was his way with a steel bar and an open-D tuning that made his listeners sit up and take notice, along with his tendency to function as a one-man band. So his considerable following may be distressed to learn that on Sky Like a Broken Clock, Phelps has not only forsaken his solo format but ditched the slide entirely. Has the bluesy bard of Vancouver, Washington, gone commercial on us? Not in the least. The band--Larry Taylor on upright bass and Morphine's Billy Conway on drums--is agile and eccentric enough to follow the leader every step of the way. Phelps compensates for the absent slide with some elegant fingerpicking, particularly on such pentatonic beauties as "Beggar's Oil" and "Worn Out," which suggest a less mordant, Americanized version of Richard Thompson. And his singing has grown looser, whether he's slipping in and out of his falsetto on the funky "Sally Ruby" or commemorating a lost soul in "Tommy." A little more textural variety might have been welcome: the ensemble settles into one melancholic groove after another, and the dabs of organ and cello don't really change matters. For the most part, though, this is exquisite, surprising stuff--and if Phelps's melisma gets any smoother, he may be able to retire the slide for good. --James Marcus

Similarly Requested CDs


CD Reviews

A band, no slide, but still just beautiful music
Nobody important | 07/14/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"OK, let's clear up a few things here. On this album, Kelly Joe Phelps has a band. He has worked with bands before, to marvelous effect-- witness his performances on Tony Furtado-- "Roll My Blues Away," "The Tony Furtado Band" (bluegrass/blues/celtic blends); Greg Brown-- "Slant 6 Mind," and "Further In" (both of these are folk/blues-based albums with a very similar feel to this one) and Martin Simpson's "Cool and Unusual," (celtic blues instrumentals-- astounding) to name a few. He can play flashy lead like nobody else, but he knows how to share a stage, and the key to his playing has always been the fact that his playing is never flashy enough to overshadow the music (which is itself a wonder given that he is one of the best guitarists you will ever hear). Next, there is no slide here. Again, on his last two albums, he played many of the songs without the slide, and showed that his fingerstyle guitar, and his single-note lead lines are almost as impressive. That said, this is a wonderful album with beautiful writing, beautiful singing and, of course, top-notch musicianship. While his first few albums were the very essence of blues, the music here cannot really be called blues. This is a blend of the acoustic styles with which KJP has been experimenting for the last few years, although the blues roots are difficult to miss. I hate the term, "New Acoustic Music" (not to be confused with the insipid "new age"), but it fits this album, which combines old country blues, modern folk and folk-rock, and a touch of country and bluegrass. The feel is mellow, but the music is complex enough to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the album, with the same free-flowing, jazz-influenced structure you will find on KJP's previous albums. Further listening (or, if you like these albums, buy Sky Like a Broken Clock): All albums I mentioned at the start of this review. Also, Dave Alvin: "King of California," and "Blackjack David." Steve Earle: "Train a Comin'." Ben Harper: "Welcome to the Cruel World," and "Fight for your Mind." Richard Thompson: "Small Town Romance." Gillian Welch: "Hell Among the Yearlings." Todd Phillips, David Grier and Matt Flinner: "Phillips, Grier and Flinner.""
Plenty of sauce, but a little undercooked
Prof. Slidewell | Lambertville, New Jersey USA | 07/19/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Kelly Joe's got the vibe going on this release. Loose, funky moods abound. Great guitar playing as usual. However, his songs have grown over time to include long, intricate narratives. As much as I love his outstanding guitar playing (I'm a lap-style player myself), on this album it seems the two elements are fighting for space. I appreciate the enthusiasm and fun that comes through as Kelly Joe and his accompanyists jam out, but perhaps next time he might craft the songs to better support his wonderful stories."
His best yet...
Rob Damm | 08/13/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)

"It's always great to hear a superlative musician play by himself. You know what's even better? Hearing the same musician play with other equally gifted brothers-arms. That's exactly what we get on "Sky Like a Broken Clock". Phelps is easily one of the most talented and creative guitarists alive and one of the most vital artists working in American Roots music today. Long-time fans will instantly lament the abscence of Phelps spellbinding slide work. He makes up for it with startlingly complex fingerpicking that probably makes Johny Fahey's ears perk up somewhere in The Great Beyond. The really interesting thing about this album, though, is hearing Phelps as part of a band. Larry Taylor is a string bassist who has worked extensively with Tom Waits. He's a bassist who has a really recognizable, muscular-yet-melodic style. Listening to him and Phelps playing off of each other is one of the big music thrills of this year. Billy Conway adds subtley complex percussion. I think what has some people speaking out against Phelps' "new direction" is the fact that he really is part of an ensemble. That is true, each instrument get's equal treatment in the mix and arrangement, but it sounds fine to me. These guys sound like they were born to play together. There also no Trad. Arr. Phelps tunes... or covers of any kind. Everything is original. Comes as no surprise to this reviewer. I was amazed at how well his plain-spoken originals blended with the traditional material on "Shine Eyed Mister Zen". I'm glad to see he's gained enough confidence and chops as a songwriter to pen a whole album. This year has spoiled us with some great releases: Gillian Welch, Bonnie Prince Billie, The "O, Brother" albums... "Sky Like a Broken Clock" is foremost among these. Brilliant music."