"Few songwriters can deftly weave separate similes involving Popeye, Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea into a single verse. Fewer still can make it sound deeply soulful. But such are the gifts that make Phelps such a remarkable artist. Besides his off-kilter lyrical expression, Phelps boasts a haunting vocal rasp and unmatched mastery of finger style and slide guitar. Together, these elements explore the deepest shades of blue, and they have never worked better than on this disc. Be it the melancholy waltz of "Not So Far To Go", or the shuffling blues of the title track, Phelps makes the sublime sound effortless. He enjoys spare, but detailed support throughout, notably from Jesse Zubot's plaintive violin and and some truly thrilling guitar cameos by Bill Frisell. This is music that rings with bittersweet experience." - Mojo (UK)
"Empowering his characters with detail of Springsteen and Waits, Phelps' songwriting has leapt to a level inhabited by few (Dylan and Cohen spring to mind), while his voice sounds like Kentucky bourbon being poured over a waterfall. Frills are non-existent, instead Phelps relies on atmosphere and incredible warmth, lending these tales - all contenders for the plot of innumerable Cohen Brothers films - an air of late-autumn calm that simultaneously grips and soothes the listener." - Logo (UK)
"A scrumptious disc of Phelps' freewheeling, though tightly written, tunes, sketched broadly, with a richer sound filled with fiddle, accordion, mandolin and keyboards. Critics are going gaga." - St. Petersburg Times
"Phelps' recent release, "Slingshot Professionals", is a tribute to his own evolution… his style has an original darkness and depth. Here, it seems, is a singer/songwriter who's settled firmly into his own voice." - Asheville Mountain Xpress
"Phelps makes the complex appear simple by allowing his songs to unfurl slowly, flowing with confidence and unctuous rhythms. "Slingshot Professionals" is draped in eloquence and humble introspection." - Boston Herald
"Having long since mastered the technical aspects of his trade, Phelps now seeks to locate the spirit of the old rural blues among the chaos and bitterness of modern life… A marvelous, absorbing album." - The Independent (UK)
"Phelps' musical world is constantly evolving and 'Slingshot' stays true to
the exploratory path. For this project guitarist-singer Kelly Joe uses two groups of musicians to create a full, atmospheric wash that surrounds his thoughtful lyrics with a grace rooted in jazz, folk and blues…. There's no doubt Kelly Joe Phelps writes engaging and truthful songs and the musicianship by all is impeccable. The often elusive wordplay demands close attention but the rewards are there. Full of twists and turns, light and dark, Phelps once again proves himself an estimable complete musician ever changing, ever growing." - Plan9Music.Com
"Steeped in the spirit of the blues, Phelps' voice is rich and raw, with liberal doses of Nebraska Springsteen and even, occasionally, Tom Waits. Bongos and strings join the mix, giving it a drive and adding delicate accents. Instrumentally, the CD is full of such understated touches… Frisell plays in such a way to draw just enough attention to his beautiful style while still keeping his ear trained on Phelps' skewed snapshots of characters. A subtle and engaging disc." - Harp
"On 'Slingshot Professionals' Phelps's acoustic guitar is fleshed out by strategically placed string instruments, delicately handled percussion and massaged keyboards. Phelps lends his husky vocals to heartfelt observations… The album is a sublime exercise in subtlety."
- Sarasota Herald Tribune
"An ace guitar player… a singer with an almost gothic, gravel and velvet voice; and a songwriter whose literate, cliché-dodging way with lyrics mixes art and grit in a distinctive way."
- Santa Barbara News-Press
"It's not every guitar icon that turns away from the idolatry his mastery inspires… For Kelly Joe Phelps, the evolution from venerated picker to respected singer-songwriter has been gradual and organic… With "Slingshot Professionals", Phelps has thoroughly crossed over into the territory of Tom Waits and J.J. Cale, couching his sly songs in his fullest arrangements to date… Phelps definitely hasn't dulled the guitar chops. But more than ever, his playing serves a larger purpose." - S.F.Gate.Com
"Phelps' songs and his playing coalesce in his music, which combines the sophistication of jazz with the unadorned realism of the blues and the stark honesty of folk music."
- Tampa Tribune
"Phelps is a remarkable acoustic guitarist who has assimilated so many disparate influences - everyone from Chet Atkins and Leo Kottke to Mississippi Fred McDowell and Ornette Coleman - that he escapes and even defies categorization. He has also become an adroit lyricist. His new album, 'Slingshot Professionals', finds him engaging in the sort of knotty, elliptical wordplay that is generally more the province of established novelists than fellow songwriters. In that sense, Phelps has much in common with Tom Waits and precious few others… This musical hunger can be heard on 'Slingshot Professionals' on which Phelps plays in a conversational and spontaneous way with two discrete small ensembles. One features the renowned guitarist Bill Frisell, while the other is built around a core of guitarist Phelps, fiddler and mandolinist Jesse Zubot, and Weissenborn player Steve Dawson.… a testament to strong material, good chemistry and great musicians."
- Winston Salem Journal
"What a wonderfully fresh release this is from Kelly Joe Phelps. I can't emphasize enough just how this release has bowled me over…… I certainly haven't heard many play with such genuine and pure emotion and I can certainly never recall having never felt so in awe of an artist after an album has finished….. Each track reads like a poem and Kelly Joe's touching and heartfelt tones certainly capture the essence of those words to jaw dropping effect. ….. One of the most organic and natural offerings I've ever been privileged to have the introduction to and I would recommend this to everybody who wants to hear the Blues with 'real' breadth and effortlessness……Blissful." - Blues Matters (UK)
BLUES CRAFTED WITH A CARE
"KELLY JOE PHELPS has been punching through the boundaries of who he is
supposed to be with every album. I first knew him as the religiously
inclined, prodigious country blues guitarist of 1996's Roll Away The Stone,
itself a progression from his jazz beginnings. The three albums since have
thrown up personal, modern blues songwriting, then a turn into something
uncategorisable: literary songs of hurt played in a tight but improvised
spirit by a top notch band. It's a right-angled career turn typical of two
musicians Phelps loves, Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, and of Phelps' own
questing, wrestling approach to musical and spiritual questions that made
even his "purest" blues more than pastiche." - Nick Hasted The Independent
BLUES-INFLUENCED TROUBADOUR’S BEST YET
" The transformation of KJP from revivalist bluesman to contemporary singer-songwriter continues on his fifth album. His songs are now mini-stories, populated by seekers of truth and peddlers of dreams. His guitar style is exemplary, his voice has a heartfelt rich patina and the backing musician including Bill Frisell create a folk-jazz accompaniment of almost spiritual empathy. “Knock Louder” revisits his blues roots, but only serves to remind us how far he has since come." - Nigel Williamson, Uncut
"And so, he continues to grow. Album number five, 'Slingshot Professionals' is a very wonderful thing. Richly acoustic tunes of poetic haunt and verse. Guitars, harmonica, piano, accordion, violin, mandolin and more. Luxuriant textures and variant hues, elegantly woven and softly spun. And that husky voice -- well worn, emoting good and getting better all the time. If at times he recalls 'Bop Until You Drop' -- era Ry Cooder – cut through with a shot of Beat and belt of Waits - still he is very much his own man. Indeed, he is memorably possessed of hose own fully formed, richly realised, yet still developing sound. As a guitar player Phelps typically eschews the showy in lieu of the subtle, and is all the more affecting for it. Increasingly, too, his words have taken on a rare, imagistic thrall all their own. On the new album, such crooked mystery, eloquently wrought, with snapshots and vignettes of ache and wonder and enigma hewn, he is a shadowy master of gnawing, crafted song." - Ross Fortune, Time Out
"Kelly Joe Phelps has been widening his musical vision of late, bringing on board an array of backing musicians to flesh out his immaculately picked-out folk blues. His fourth Rykodisc album continues this progression, with electric guitar from Bill Frisell, lightly brushed percussion from Scott Amendola, streaks of organ and accordian and additional vocals from Petra Haden, all tracking Phelps's mesmerising finger work. But for all its technical articulation, this mighty fine record feels as artless as an improvisation." - Metro
"You'd best not try to pigeon-hole Kelly Joe Phelps or try restricting what he does by attempting to define it in terms of tidy little musical genres. He's determined to keep moving. His fifth album finds him further removed from where "Sky Like A Broken Clock" left off, which is precisely his point."
"In the beginning, this somewhat melancholy, lap-slide wizard bubbled up from the Delta to stun audiences with his texturally rich and definitely original approach to the blues. His next exploration took him to experiment with the magic that results when musicians interact with each other, allowing songs to breathe with a life all their own. Sky added more colours to Phelps' musical palette as bass and drums brought new hues to an already lush soundscape."
"Slingshot Professionals" positions Phelps deeper into the role of bandleader and his current fascination is focused on the creative process inherent in songwriting, triggered by words and language. At the same time, these word rhythms trigger the music around them and the core of Phelps' soulfulness remains the ability of the musician to define the song through the improvisation that results from a live performance and interaction. He still records this way. So it's really no surprise that Phelps has forged a deep connection with Canadian 'strang' pioneers, Zubot & Dawson, whose flamboyant and spontaneous approach to music - and their prodigious talents - mirror and compliment his own. Phelps guested on their "Chicken Scratch" release and they make up a large part of Slingshot, together with noted jazz colourist, Bill Frisell."
"Phelps is a powerful vocalist able to coax a roar from a whisper, wincing and slurring like a man possessed, while each band member embellishes their every line with equal parts heart and stamina." - EXCLAIM - By Eric Thom
FOLK ROOTS BEAUTY
"No one ever got rich by overestimating the record-buying public’s capacity to get off on high literary style set to delicate musical accompaniment. That’s Kelly Joe’s cross to bear. His songs are short stories, winkled out of his observations of the liminal, the outside, the sad, the infant, which he sings with a blurry, furry tenor of outstanding warmth. When his melodies fly, you weep of your inability to sing your own children such lullabies."
- NC, The Sunday Independent