Joel RL Phelps


by Steve Lichtenstein


OK, so it snowed. A lot. But the snow itself is not the problem. You know what the problem is? Meteorologists. If the stupid meteorologists (and what is this term all about-they’re not studying meteors?) had correctly completed their sole job of conveying semi-accurate weather predictions to the general public, then none of this would have been a big deal. But no. The stupid meteorologists said that we might get a dusting, that we might get less than half an inch if we’re lucky. And what happens? Well, 18 inches later, I can hardly see my car, and only my dog’s tail protrudes above the snow in the backyard to let me know she is still moving. Wonderful. Easily one of the biggest screw-ups in professional history. What if people at other jobs messed up this bad? Like doctors, or policeman, or construction workers? Could they remedy such miscalculations with stupid happy smiley fun sun faces and lame jokes? But I digress.

So anyway, there’s this Joel RL Phelps record, Blackbird. On the surface, it’s your standard alternative far: guitars, plaintive lyrics, skewed melodies, earnest ballads, eager distortion. Underneath, however, there is a distinct air that permeates the entire album and seems to prevail as a tribute to other trend-setting alt-rock artists. You can hear Neil Young and Paul Westerberg amid this onslaught of Pearl Jam-esque guitars and chunka-chunka rhythms. The Vedder-Young breeding is most evident on “I Got a Live One,” while you can even sense a little bit of the Flaming Lips on “Unless You’re Tired of Living.” But it’s the simultaneous sense of giddy angst that so strongly conjures up images of the Replacements. Phelps’ voice has the same jagged sincerity and believability as Westerberg’s that makes you think he could sell you anything.

cover art

Joel Rl Phelps



But even in a less precise manner, Blackbird takes the shape of an entire era of alternative music. You could almost take any song and place it on some other album by some other artist, and be just as satisfied with the juxtaposition. But the music here is not derivative in a negative way, but rather in the best. In creating music that stands on its own, Phelps and company have merely taken what went before them and tweeked it to suit their own needs. Well done. If only one could say the same for the silly weather folks.




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