Sunday, July 27, 2008

Come Back to the Five & Dime, Joel R.L. Phelps

Where has Joel R.L. Phelps gone? His music, with Silkworm and especially the solo albums recorded with the Downer Trio, has always carried a remarkable, almost offhand intensity. It's a bit baffling how Phelps has not managed to maintain a following and profile along the lines of, say, Mark Eitzel or Vic Chesnutt, because he's every bit as talented and singular. Nowhere is this more apparent than what is sadly his most obscure release, the Inland Empires EP, a mostly-covers affair from 1999.

Phelps delivers stunning, simple versions of songs by Townes Van Zandt, Fleetwood Mac, Iris Dement, and Steve Earle, as well as a driving cover of the Go-Betweens' "Apology Accepted". His original, "Now You Are Found", has been celebrated by practically everyone who's written a word about this EP; the lone reviewer on the EP's Amazon UK page does a creditable job:
'Now That You Are Found' is a eulogy to his sister who died in 1999. Phelps leads the listener through various points in their relationship from childhood to the point of her death; finally he captures the emotions he experiences after her death. "And I'm stuck here now with the living, with my mother and my Dad, I remember about the past and it's meaning and what we might have had." At points it sounds as if he's going to breakdown, and the emotion in the song almost brought this listener to tears. The track does not trivialize death, rather it expresses issues and feelings in a painfully honest way not often dealt with in contemporary music. One can only hope that it acts as some form of catharsis for Phelps himself. This may all sound thoroughly downbeat and best avoided, but there's joy to be found in these songs. Thumbnail sketches of everyday life, each one a tiny epiphany.
Honestly, that Amazon UK page might be the only place on earth one can order the EP. There's not even a page for it on Amazon US or Insound, nothing on eMusic or iTunes. Its UK label, 12XU - which I believe was founded explicitly to release this record! - will only sell it to non-US addresses. Fortunately, the label does make a few downloads available.

Joel last surfaced in late 2006 to open a benefit show in Seattle. His web page has since disappeared. Come back, wherever you are.

MP3: Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio - Apology Accepted
MP3: Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio - Now You Are Found


Anonymous said...

Dude, I know how you feel! I was just searching for info on him today, after hearing some Silkworm albums again last night. I heard he's living in Vancouver, but I have no clue.

Anonymous said...

That 'Pilot' video on youtube is from me. I walked into that show not knowing anything about the band: who is in it, what kind of music they play.

The set knocked me over.

I think they did 7 East coast gigs on that tour. Of the 3 that I know are recorded, (Balt MD, Prov RI, Boston), the Boston gig was by far the best.

estevez manTooth said...

The Downer Trio is amazing. The more JRLP in this world the better. The website is now listed as a "fan" site and there's not much out there in internet land.

A Silkworm documentary "Couldn't You Wait" is in the works.

Joel did acoustic sets at two Muscular Dystrophy benefits here in Seattle last year. One in January and one in April.

Matt said...

I know what you mean about trying to find his releases. Besides Customs, which I got from the (now MIA) Moneyshot, the rest were either used or from my old college radio station.

estevez manTooth said...

Check out the JRLP fan page on Myspace:

The BC band LadyHawk has a relevant post on their blog:

Anonymous said...

I so love this guy's music. I wish he would release some new music.

Dean Eddy said...

Joel's decision to vanish is tragic. I saw him with the Downer Trio at the Sunset Tavern in 2007(?) and it was sublime. Warm Springs Nights is one of the finest records I've ever heard. And I listen to a lot of music. If you see him, tell him we miss him.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "Warm Spring's Night" is one of the most gorgeous and affecting albums. The kind of thing people call a "personal and critical triumph." And this was what, 1997? A tragedy we didn't all have iphones then to record his shows.

Joshua said...

same's now 2009 and this messageboard is the closest I've come to finding anything else about this elusive artist. I've only been able to find the album "3" (my favorite) and Customs. Wish he'd make more music...:(

S said...

I don't know where he's gone, but I agree that he's sorely missed. His music is incredible, both with Silkworm and with the Downer Trio. There's almost no one that makes music this intimate and heartfelt these days. He's got his heart in all the right places.

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Anonymous said...

He will return.

Be ready.

Anonymous said...

Sunset Tavern
Seattle, WA


Anonymous said...

10/26/11 as in October 26th 2011? the sunset tav calendar lists nothing on that date as of today 10/01/11

it's a nice thing to think about, it would be awesome if it was true!

dave@indiefolkforever said...

Yeah, now they list Trophy Hunter with The Luna Moth and Scriptures on that date.

I just wanted to add, it's pretty funny that a five-year-old post on my dormant blog has become the place to discuss Joel Phelps news.

Anonymous said...

Friday August 31, 2012 @ InterUrban Gallery 01 E. Hastings St. Vancouver CANADA
w/ CHRIS BROKAW and ZEBRA HUNT (seattle wa usa)