In my Roots Music column today I advance several area roots events and review two albums that were released on Canadian labels earlier this summer- The Homemade Jamz Blues Band’s new one I Got Blues for You (Northern Blues) and Kelly Joe Phelps’s Western Ball (Black Hen). I’ve had both albums for awhile but only now found the words to review them, not to mention the space.
The Homemade Jamz Blues Band I Got Blues for You (Northern Blues)
Comprised of ten-year old drummer Taya Perry and her teenaged brothers Kyle (14, bass) and Ryan (16, guitar and vocals) augmented by father and songwriter Renaud on harmonica, The Homemade Jamz Blues Band surpass novelty with their second collection of original blues.
This is a mature sounding album, with as much in common with blues-based rock acts- think late 70s Pat Travers Band- as it does the southern blues tradition. This is attributable to Ryan Perry’s vocal phrasing and extended instrumental breaks. Additionally, the subject matter- hard headed women, ramblin’, misguided love and unfaithfulness- is adult in theme.
Minor quibbles aside- Taya never passes up an opportunity to give her cymbals a swat, even when a more subtle approach may be considered- I Got Blues for You is suitably impressive and the kids prove themselves a competent power trio.
It would be easy to dismiss the siblings as puppets of an overbearing stage parent, lack of such evidence aside. If presented in an unlabeled jewel case, nothing would indicate that the mean age of the band is thirteen. Acutely sequenced, the album begins raucous and builds in intensity despite modulations in tempo and tone. The recording has a live feel, and there are times when one expects applause over fading notes.
The real treats are the lead vocals and guitar. Ryan Perry has a deep-seated blues growl tempered by phrasing well beyond his years, reminiscent of Phil Lynott and Bill Sheffield. Heaven Lost an Angel is passionately sung, and his instrumentation on a double-necked 12-string is supportive of the song’s mood. King Snake and In the Wind provide additional examples of the singer’s mature dexterity.
Kelly Joe Phelps Western Bell (Black Hen Music)
One of the most expressive vocalists within the Americana genre, Kelly Joe Phelps has also long been recognized for his dexterity within various guitar styles.
On his latest album, Phelps sings not a word. Instead, in producing a nocturnal collection of eleven solo guitar instrumentals, the west coast native allows his 6- and 12- strings to reclaim their rightful place. Haunting and adventurous, the tunes never get bogged down in noodling. So balanced and spacious are the songs, it is difficult to accept that much of the album was improvised in the studio.
Much like an unfamiliar but fragrant coffee blend might be appreciated, Western Bell intrigues and challenges, with lingering flavours that ultimately soothe.
While listening, many names float along the notes- Richard Thompson, Leadbelly, Tony Rice, Jack Lawrence- but one is left with only one: Kelly Joe Phelps.
As always, thanks to the labels and publicists who continue to service me with music to review. And thanks to you for stopping by to read my thoughts. Now, go buy an album! Best, Donald