Acoustic blues is a part of the blues that I’ve really only ever admired from afar. Being primarily an electric player, of course my heroes have held Stratocasters, Telecasters, 335s and Les Pauls.
But over the last couple of years I’ve been noticing the acoustic guys, especially those with gospel blues leanings. For some reason, the blues seems to become more significantly, well, bluesy, when filtered through or derived from the American church teachings from the first few decades of the 20th century. Yes, I know one obvious connection: the call and response of field workers and the solace found in the Bible at the time. All that.
Maybe that’s all it is. Undiluted blues from the source. But there’s something more. And perhaps not being able to put one’s finger on the ‘it’ that makes it so special is the appeal.
Gospel blues, or ‘country blues’, is alive and well today in a guy called Kelly Joe Phelps, a jazz bassist of over ten years turned sublime fingerstyle guitarist and blues singer-songwriter.Check out his 2012 album Brother Sinner and the Whale for a collection of beautiful gospel blues tunes delivered by his understated down-home voice and amazing guitar style featuring his deftly-coordinated picking hand. Playing guitar like this is almost like taking up another instrument for your standard guitar player; a parallel universe of technique.
You could be forgiven for thinking that “Goodbye to Sorrow”, a tune penned by Phelps, is an old tune from the churches of the South. But Phelps’ re-incarnation of this style is just that good. Good enough to reach out and redeem. Good enough to draw you into the stories and messages of the old Testament, even if you’re a non-believer. Check out the video below.