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