Released last summer on a small label in Portland, Ore., this album is beginning to gain well-deserved national attention. Phelps's unadorned brand of country blues is hypnotic. A former jazzman who converted to the music of the Mississippi Delta about six years ago, Phelps brings remarkable authenticity to his debut. He plays the acoustic guitar Dobro-style, with the instrument lying on his lap, picking and strumming as he glides a slide over the frets. His only accompaniments are his sleepy, smoky voice and the percussive sounds of his left foot tapping on a wooden stomp box while his right hand slaps the guitar body.
Throughout 13 songs, a balance of original and traditional compositions, Phelps returns the blues to its intimate back-porch roots. Most impressive are the keening, confessional readings he gives to "I've Been Converted," "Fare Thee Well" and the title track. Music this pure and this penetrating is a rare treat. (Burnside Records, 3158 E. Burnside, Portland, Ore. 97214. Phone: 503-231-0876)