The evening began with a short opening set from Serena Ryder, the 20-year-old Canadian singer who opened for Steve Earle. Accompanying herself on guitar she sang several of her own compositions from her latest CD "Unlikely Emergency" and also included her cover of Hank Williams "Love Sick Blues". I must say her stage presence is confident and she has a powerful, quite remarkably mature voice for one of tender years. Her delivery is reminiscent of Ani Di Franco.

Serena Ryder - Corner Hotel

Kelly Joe Phelps is acknowledged as one of the best slide blues guitarists in the world. However, his last two records have not featured that instrument, nor did Kelly Joe bring his slide guitar with him on this tour. A member of the audience asked him to play steel. Phelps' wry reply was "it got stealed at customs". He is instead garnering a name for himself as a songwriter.

Kelly Joe Phelps opened his show with "Jericho", a song from his latest CD "Slingshot Professionals". Playing a Martin guitar and employing his characteristic slurring vocals in his warm husky voice, he followed with a song from the "Clock Without Hands" CD, "Clementine" a skewed version of the old classic "My Darling Clementine".

He drew on material from all his CDs, hardly pausing to enlighten the audience on the song titles. This reviewer noted down a few of the lyrics and scanned the CD notes of his CDs to find the titles.

Kelly Joe Phelps - Corner Hotel

As he had only flown into Melbourne that morning, and had already performed at a Basement Discs Instore at lunchtime, it was obvious that he was tired and jet lagged. Despite that, he gave an honest and masterly performance.

Eyes closed for the most part, his legs seemed to have a life of their own, stomping disjointedly in time to the music as he rocked backwards and forwards in his chair, seemingly oblivious to all but the song and the music.

The next few songs were "Knock Louder", "Not Too Far To Go", "Capman Bootman" "Tommy" and "Fleashine" pausing between each to acknowledge the audience reaction and thanking them in his quietly spoken way.

A member of the audience requested "Goodnight Irene" and another requested "River Rat Jimmy". The latter request was in accord with Kelly Joe's busy tuning of his guitar so "River Rat Jimmy" was next.

Kelly Joe Phelps - The Corner

He ended the set with "I Am the Light of This World".

Enthusiastic applause drew him back for two more songs "Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" and "Katy".

It was a laid back evening and though Kelly Joe Phelps only sang 11 songs it must be remembered that each of those songs was prolonged by elaborate and beautiful guitar embellishments.

We were left satisfied but wishing for more.

Text and Photos by Anne Sydenham 2004

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