I have a secret: I don’t think I’m ready for Kelly Joe Phelps yet.
We seem to worship our musicians with an entirely different level of zest nowadays. We need that charismatic, sparkling personality; energetic shows filled with plenty of quick banter and public/private winking. We listen for those musical hooks to inform us which song we’re listening to, and when to sing along. We marvel at an artist’s dress, the expensive shininess of his guitar, the size of his band and entourage.
You know those concerts where the musicians were a little slow to warm up, getting better throughout the set? It was the reverse in this case: my ears needed the time to wake up and figure out what I was hearing.
I think we’ve lost this ability over time, and it’s a sad side effect of our too-rushed society. Not the ability to endorse the loud and brash, but the sharp-shooter accuracy of being able to distinguish the quiet moments. This is what Kelly Joe Phelps is known for, after all, and it’s sad that my ‘modern’ ears can’t quite make out the language that he is speaking.
Kelly Joe Phelps is an artist I wouldn’t recommend going to ‘blind.’ Listening cold to his songs for the first time may be too much for the uninitiated. I got fragments of it, especially towards the end as “River Rat Jimmy” rolled around, possibly the most famous of his songs.
It took a while to sink in. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what I was listening to.
But the awakening of true hearing was well worth the journey.