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Joel RL Phelps | The Downer Trio | 3 (Pacifico)
Phelps' pained and strained voice is one that, while not technically accomplished, ranks among the more expressive in contemporary music. Here, against the sparse backing of acoustic and pedal steel guitars, upright bass, horns or traditional trio set-up with brushed drums and gently stroked electric guitar he takes us on a late night ride into early morning. Rarely breaking into a canter his cracking tones evoke ADAM DURITZ's most intimate moments (rare that they are) during songs that put an old school spin on the palette. The trio (Phelps, William Herzog and Robert Mercer) utilise subtle instrumental variations on each track, apparently recorded live (never more than three instruments discernible at one time) behind narratives that wouldn't sound out of place among BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's pre-CBS output. However, besides a passing resemblance to an unplugged Calexico on Chaplin's Radiotelephone, this is a unique, seductive and beguiling sound which, as it's cover suggests, feels like floating on clouds or succumbing to the pull of the tide.

Matt Dornan
CWAS #4 - Winter 1998/9 - The Lost Issue