Kelly Joe Phelps
Soft-spoken, light-fingered Phelps leaves an intricately bare-bones imprint on Tunesmith Retrofit. It may take multiple listens to get past the craft to the emotions. Three Canadians—Chris Gestrin, Jesse Zubot and Steve Dawson—help flesh out the Oregonian’s subtle backing. “The sensible word that hovers and shakes like a hummingbird,” from “Tight to the Jar,” is an example of his idiosyncratic similes. Musings on the source of song and Phelps’ renewed passion for the banjo combine to make “Handful of Arrows” a standout. In the right hands, for the right ears, acoustic music still offers a jolt.