Beyond the gripe and moan of the music industry’s death throws, Joel Phelps has made a few, if all too transient, appearances with The Downer Trio since the mid ’90s. Brief and intermittent though they have been, every re-emergence has brought with it a refreshing blast of relief. And then in the middle of the naughties (when the world needed him the most), the man seemed to disappear altogether. It’s been a while Mr Phelps, it’s been a while! Too long! But then a browse through Spotify brought forth ‘Gala’.
Like most of Phelps’ output, it’s hardly cheery listening. ‘Dark’ being the ‘new light’, however, it’s every bit the antidote to The Voice, Britain’s Got Talent, American Idol, The X Factor et al. Herein we have 13 sparse, haunting, mournful songs punctuated by Biblical imagery, ruminations on the human condition and Phelps’ ragged, overdriven Telecaster. For those familiar with the Phelps catalogue, the record sits somewhere between the resonant rural clatter of ‘3’ and the rough, dry, suburban lo-fidelity garage rock of ‘Blackbird’. For those less familiar, it’s a fine place to start your relationship.
‘Gala’ is sorrowful, heartfelt, insular and superb. Everything you look for in a record by Joel R.L Phelps. His voice is a little deeper, a little softer and a little older… but he’s back!
Interesting extra! Here’s a video of Joel singing a hymn (like you’ve never heard it sung) at his Seabright Arms show in 2014.