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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phelps has restored my faith in blues
Compliments of my parents, I grew up listening to delta and country blues-- Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Bukka White, well, you get the point. As the years went by, I found myself less and less interested in pure blues. Look at the greats-- half of Blind Willie Johnson's songs have exactly the same melody, and he wasn't even the worst offender...
Published on January 13, 2000

versus
2 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars .
this guy's definitely a good guitarist, actually really good. i wish i could play like him. maybe i'm not crazy about the album because his vocals aren't so good. they sound sorta dumb. some of the lyrics aren't very good. but it is enjoyable to hear him play the guitar so well.
Published on May 22, 2005 by cart ruckbus


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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phelps has restored my faith in blues, January 13, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Compliments of my parents, I grew up listening to delta and country blues-- Robert Johnson, Son House, Charley Patton, Bukka White, well, you get the point. As the years went by, I found myself less and less interested in pure blues. Look at the greats-- half of Blind Willie Johnson's songs have exactly the same melody, and he wasn't even the worst offender. Formulaic lyrics and repetitive song structures just didn't do it for me anymore. I turned to jazz, blues-influenced folk such as John Fahey, and the occasional blues-based rock of modern geniuses like Chris Whitley and Ben Harper, and jam bands like Widespread Panic and the Allman Brothers. Until a few days ago, the only pure blues that held my attention came from the odd-balls like Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. Then I heard Kelly Joe Phelps-- this album in particular. OK, so he's only one man, but he writes and plays with such soul and technical skill, and more importantly, originality that I no longer believe the form to be a lost cause. Unlike Corey Harris or Ben Harper (mentioned by another reviewer), Phelps does not attempt to simply infuse his blues with cajun and occasionally carribean sounds (like Harris), or infuse rock with folk, blues and reggae (like Harper, one of my personal favorites) in order to revamp the blues. Phelps just plays the blues. However, the difference between Phelps and someone like Dave Van Ronk (part of the 60's blues revival) is that Phelps writes songs with complex structure, melodies and rhythms rather than just rehashing Robert Johnson. Like Chris Whitley on 'Dirt Floor,' Phelps shows that the form is not a lost cause. There is still room for creativity in the blues.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For fans of Leo Kottke and John Fahey, June 11, 2000
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Phelps' guitar work is unspeakably lyrical. He mixes a primitive-American finger-style with fierce blues scales and burbling folk passages. He is one of the few contemporary folk musicians who doesn't seem to dwell in the shadow of his influences; instead, he seems to have entirely digested and mastered them. A testament to this is the way the covers and originals on this lovely record flow into each other. His take on the Dock Boggs' favorite "Country Blues" is alive, fresh and completely Phelps' own. The major addition to this record is the strong presence of original songs, which are, without exception accomplished, plain-spoken and very effective. The music is the star of the show here, not just an excuse for Phelps to show off his awe-inspiring guitar chops. The recording is very immediate, detailed and natural. Phelps' warm and weary voice sounds very intimate and you can appreciate every nuance of his phrasing. Easily one of the best of 1999, and maybe Phelps' best record yet.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true master, March 13, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Kelly Joe Phelps seems now to be getting the recognition he deserves. When you first hear this music, you will be convinced that Phelps is either accompanied or the music overdubbed. Not so. His technical ability is truly remarkable, picking and sliding at the same time, but this is not at the core of his work. The technical brilliance is overshadowed by this being one of the most emotionally intense albums I have heard. Songs like "The House Carpenter" and "River Rat Jimmy" are chilling - this is the perfect music to listen to when you are alone at 3am. One thing that you cannot understand about KJP from his recordings is quite how great an improviser he is. Neverplays the same song the same way twice, and has even been known to improvise new songs on the spur of the moment. DO NOT let that put you off buying the album - I think that only "The Soft Bulletin" by The Flaming Lips can equal it as best album of 1999. But do make sure that next time KJP is near you you make sure to see him live; it is almost a life-changing experience as his six strings and his superb, somewhat slide-like voice make you realise that true originals and innovative, fresh music can still come out of "traditional" genres. For now, just order this album, and if you can, his others too. I would start here though; "Shine Eyed Mister Zen" is just extraordinary.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This record actually deserves 6 stars, October 13, 2000
By 
Riley A. Vann (Morristown, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
For the longest time now, I've given up on the blues as a developing, growing field of music. It is extremely easy to play the blues badly, very difficult to do it well. And until I heard Kelly Joe Phelps live, I'd thought absolutely impossible to actually be an innovator in the field of blues.
Hadn't it all already been done as well as it could be done? Well, listen to any of the songs above and you'll see what this man has been able to do for the blues. Perhaps most amazingly of all, not only does he make blues classics seem at once fresh but also as ancient as the hills, but he writes new tunes which fit seemlessly into the long tradition of blues songs. From his amazing acoustic guitar playing (it escapes description with words) to his lyrics to his voice (which also escape description). And as good as his records are, his live performances are not to be missed. Find out where he is playing and go there immediately.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! Truly wonderful music!, August 22, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Playing lap slide and acoustic guitar, and with a unique, earthy vocal delivery, Phelps most closely compares to Ben Harper. Yet, he is in every sense his own artist, breathing new life into each measure of music on this CD. With incredible skill as a musician and songwriter, Phelps opens up the possibilities available to roots musicians in nearly every genre. In much the same way that Corey Harris' new CD pushes the boundaries of blues, folk, and other stlyes, Phelps is helping to redefine and update a form of music that has too often been simply rehashed. Anyone who wants to know what amazing things can still be done with a single guitar and a voice need go no further than this record.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blazing a path to greatness., March 28, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
There's defintley something special going on here. KJP 1st CD "Lead me on" was just great blues, with flashes of Phelps songwritting poweress. "Roll away the stone" was a real eye oppener, much more then just "White boy plays the blues". It Combined Elements of Gospel and Country Blues, and it created a feel that was fresh, like you just heard this type of music for the 1st time, which is rare for that genre. On his 3rd release, "Shine eyed mister Zen" It's obvious Phelps has continued a rare and beautiful path, that only could be discribed as greatness. Form the opening trac, "House Carpenter"
to Final trac, "Good nite Irene", the CD pulls you and never lets you go. The playing in pure and awe inspiring, The Songwritting is mystifying, and the singing is Haunting. Phelps has raised the bar with his songwritting, which grows more impressive with each relase. "River rat jimmy" is a song about boyhood friends growing up near the muddy Puyallup river. When you listen to it, it's like running a 8 millimeter movie of your childhood through your mind as Phelps sings about he different characters, "jimmy", "joehsapht", and "Drunken dads" and "copping cans of beer" we've all been there, and Phelps brings it all back with a soft intensity that is powerfull and awesome. Some of the other tracs like the self portait "capman bootman" The playing goes beyound blues, and feels more like Jazz/classical, except for the fact it simply cooks, keep up if you can. This Disc places Phelps among the all time guitar greats. I can't think of any other CD that comes close. "Katy", "Many a time", "House Carpenter", all have awe inspiring playing. Kelly Joe has started down a path to greatness, The best is yet to come, and when you think about where he has been and where he is at now, that is indeed exciting for all of us listeners.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More remarkable with each listening, November 11, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Riley Vann is right, this album is off the five star scale. Phelps is the first acoustic guitarist I've heard since Leo Kottke 25 years ago where I thought the artist was doing something really different and innovative. It's clearly blues music, but not in the standard paradigm. "House Carpenter" is an amazing slide tour de force, "Goodnight Irene" is about as bittersweet as ballads get, and in between there is more technical skill and hard-ribbed emotion than one can absorb even after repeated listenings. If you don't feel something listening to this, check your pulse . . . .
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can't say enough good things about this one...., September 8, 2001
By 
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
Wow!
DId this guy ever get it right!
Let's face it, the Blues are nothing if not REPETETIVE. But this is not just another old bluesman imprisoned within the proverbial 12-bar. Far from it, Kelly Joe starts with Delta style fingerpicking and slide and quite subtely and deftly works variations within each verse to the point where the song never stops un-folding in unexpected new directions.
If I may get a bit metaphorical here, Kelly Joe's music is foremost a dialogue between his voice and the guitar. FOr the most part, his smokey expressive voice floats above a rich mosiac of fingerpicking. But Kelly Joe smokey vocals can become a moan-full crooning as in Dock Boggs COuntry Blues, and when it does, the guitar quickly grabs the melody and dances it about playfully, only to return to support the sung melody once again. The over-all effect is quite playful and free-flowing, like a game of tag that un-folds over a subtely changing landscape.
Kelly-Joe's handling of the blues is perfect for this interplay, for the guitar and voice on these tracks subtley intertwine and play-off eachother over the familiar ground of the blues' repetetive format.
The most re-freshing part of Kelly Joe's music is its freshness. Kelly Joe seems far more interested in driving the harmonies through new twists and turns than at nailing down every last note along the way. I must credit Kelly Joe for not getting caught up in precision to the detriment of each composition's more expressive over-all 'feel'.
Lastly, I should say that I haven't stopped listening to this CD since I first saw Kelly-Joe live earlier this year. This is really exciting, fresh new... urrr... 'old' stuff, that shouldn't be missed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EZ Blues, April 16, 2003
By 
Jacko Penhale (Knoxville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
If you are the kind of listener who likes blues of an easy and acoustic type, then this is the one for you. I would rate Kelly
Joe Phelps right up there with Keb Mo in talent and taste. What
a great find this was!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turned me on to the blues, September 2, 2004
This review is from: Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Audio CD)
I've never been much of a blues afficianado, but this CD opened me up to a whole new genre. The vocals hit you right in the heart and the musicianship is outstanding. Just a great, great, piece of work.
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Shine Eyed Mister Zen
Shine Eyed Mister Zen by Kelly Joe Phelps (Audio CD - 1999)
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