Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps

Live Review | The Rock, Maltby | Review by Allan Wilkinson

With two highly respected solo careers behind them, Corinne West and Kelly Joe Phelps have joined forces to play a few shows as a perfectly complimentary duo.  Tonight, the two musicians reached day five of their current twenty-nine date British tour, playing two outstanding sets at The Rock in Maltby to a predictably packed house.  For pre-gig Internet research geeks (this reviewer included of course), the intuitive musicianship came as no surprise, having witnessed their first outing as a duo via their performance at Shoenberg’s Guitar shop in Tiburon, California, where they could be seen performing “Amelia”, “Lady Luck” and “The River’s Fool”, all of which were aired once again tonight.  There is no doubting Corinne’s exceptional ear for good guitarists, having already toured the UK with dobro maestro Doug Cox last year.  With Kelly Joe Phelps however, the singer-songwriter has not only found a first rate musician to work alongside but has also discovered a kindred spirit, a musician equipped with a clear understanding of her back catalogue of songs.  At times during the course of the concert, it was evident that the two musicians were so thoroughly engaged in their highly improvisational musical interaction, especially during some lengthy codas, that the duo may well have temporarily forgotten the audience was there.  Their combined love of the acoustic guitar is almost tangible, so much so, that with a little help from the duo’s highly animated performance, sweeping movements back and forth, up and down, it seemed their guitars were sharing a very private and intimate moment, sometimes in mid-air.  When Kelly Joe Phelps burst onto the scene some sixteen years ago as a fresh-faced baseball hat with a guitar and with a superb debut album Lead Me On, many of us were knocked out by his bottleneck style guitar playing, a style that has been very much abandoned by this gifted guitarist apart from a brief hiatus on his most current album, the instrumental Western Bell.  Despite many calls for its return, Kelly Joe sticks to his chosen path, that of a fine flat pick guitarist, a style that compliments Corinne’s songs superbly well.  With many of Corinne’s best loved songs coming out to play tonight, including “Mother to Child”, “Cowgirl Lullaby” and a superb reading of the sublime “Angel” accompanied by some weeping guitar runs by Kelly Joe, the current tour also offered an opportunity for the duo to perform a couple of brand new songs including “Trouble No More”.  Finishing with the traditional “Lass of Loch Royale” (If I Prove False to Thee), the couple left the stage without returning, despite calls for an encore.  With sixteen songs performed, some familiar, one or two not so, it was probably deemed enough to constitute a perfectly good night of well-crafted songs.