Joel Phelps

Blackbird

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A rare instance of "bad artwork, good record," Blackbird sees Joel Phelps return to the harried and frazzled days of Silkworm, with bucking and thundering crunch aplenty from his Downer Trio. Consider this an elixir if you love Neil Young's louder affairs but hate the solos and nasal delivery of J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Phelps is more of a live wire vocally than either of those gents, with his raw emoting hitting the same level of intensity introduced on his former band's records. With a missing guitar player, a casual fan could mistake this for an early Silkworm record with the other songwriters taking a break. The bass might not be as thick and busy, and the drums might not be quite as precise, but the stripped down, no-messing-around attack is similar. There's no chance to take a breath until the acoustic-led "Get the Chills"; the first three songs are among the loudest and defiant of Phelps' career. He's at his most bile-ridden on the 100-second "I Got a Live One," which approaches Bob Mould territory in its scathing vengeance. Another Comsat Angels song is unearthed by Phelps on the second side; this time it's "Lost Continent," one of the high points from 1986's Chasing Shadows. It turns out to be one of the highlights of his own record. He had introduced the band to his Silkworm cronies, who ended up covering "Our Secret" as a B-side to Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." This extracts all of the ugly '80s production nuances, centering on the repetitive drum pattern. Despite the removal of many of the song's elements, it sounds bigger and more anthemic. "Wading in the Water" also breaks free from the general guitar overdrive in its rhythmic focus.

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