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Warm Springs Night

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Album Review

Warm Spring Nights is the first album Joel R.L. Phelps released after leaving Silkworm in 1994. As a vehicle for the singer/songwriter's emotion-wrought compositions, it's difficult to imagine more ideal musical foils than Downer Trio members Robert Mercer (bass) and William Herzog (drums). Just loose enough, they strike the perfect balance between the ragged sonics of electric Neil Young and the shambling, mournful glory of the Dirty Three and Will Oldham/Palace. Phelps' guitar tone seems cut from the same ragged, flannel cloth as the Canadian singer/songwriter. On "All We Want," he offers Crazy Horse-style chord chunks for his guitar solo. Occasionally, an organ line rises in the music, running through a song like a thin thread, but little else. Likewise, Phelps follows the less-is-more approach to his feedback-soaked electric guitar. At times he almost seems to be striking it as an afterthought. On "Ave Patricia," the chords seem to melt as they leave the instrument. As the sound dies away, you can hear the air circulating between the trio and the stage is set for Phelps. Graced with one of the most unique voices in indie rock, his tone rises from a soft, relatively normal style to a penetrating tenor. Again, the comparisons to Neil Young are there, but while Young's vocals seem to constantly waver, Phelps is steady. The notes he strikes resonate like vibrating wires. It's almost otherworldly at times, like the sound of an old Appalachian singer. Surrounding him, the Downer Trio creates gorgeous tapestries of sound that tug and slacken, following the singer and pushing at the songs.

Warm Springs Night, Joel R.L. Phelps
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