Phelps Sharpens His 'Tunesmith' Tools
Singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps will be relesae his next album, "Tunesmith Retrofit," Aug. 1 on Rounder. It's the artist's sixth full-length effort and his first studio effort since 2003's "SlingshSinger/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps will be relesae his next album, "Tunesmith Retrofit," Aug. 1 on Rounder. It's the artist's sixth full-length effort and his first studio effort since 2003's "Slingshot Professionals."
"I started recording the first part of this in March, but it takes me a long time to write material, period," Phelps tells Billboard.com. "My major hurdle is the lyric content. I tend to think a lot about whether something is a worthy thing to sing about or not."
One topic Phelps addresses on the track "Handful of Arrows" is late songwriter Chris Whitley, who died last November from lung cancer.
"We weren't close but he was one of those guys I'd see around and we played a few shows here and there together, talking each time a little bit," Phelps says of Whitley. "I liked the music very much, though. It was something that was inspiring to me, his sound and the approach and how much he was giving to the craft and the pursuit of music."
Phelps, who has made many recordings solo, recruited fiddler Jesse Zubot, upright bassist Keith Lowe, slide guitarist Steve Dawson and keyboardist Chris Gestrin to appear on the record, as they had previously on "Slingshot Professionals." Phelps also broke character to play banjo on a pair of songs, which he hadn't done in years.
Another talent who has flitted in and out of Phelps' life, veteran guitarist Bill Frisell, did not appear on the new album. But the pair took the stage together along with violinist/vocalist Petra Haden in New York on Friday.
"We probably met around 1999, and we've had six or so opportunities to play together out and around," Phelps says of Frisell. "I was a fan forever, for like 20 years, and its thrilling to know him beyond just his pictures on the record covers. Playing music him is doubly thrilling."
Phelps is currently on tour and is planning to play in Australia and Europe during the late fall.