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Dan Bern and Kelly Joe Phelps on solidarity road
February 2000

If you don't know Kevin Coyne, the English social worker turned folk/rock singer expressing strong opinions about England in the 1970s and 1980s ... well if you don't know this guy, then it's certainly time to shell out some bucks and buy Dan Bern "Smartie Mine" (1999).

This is something. This is something real big and I cannot imagine that any TopForty station in the world would dare to play just one of Bern's songs. No way. These songs have something which makes you feel sick: they hit right into the middle of your belly, just right there where it hurts when it comes to be too complacent.

In difference to Kevin Coyne, Dan Bern sings about the US of A, the "Mother" of all countries (what a joke) and the cradle of democracy (what?). Well, Kevin Coyne did just that regarding England since 1973. Yep, no mis-spelling: 1973. But he's gone for some time, at least I haven't heard of him for years.

But now there's Dan Bern filling in and delivering 27 songs on 2 CDs, all of which come to the core instantly. His voice sometimes reminds me on the early Bob Dylan, but his music is something completely different. It uses all kinds of styles and rhythms, but it does so in a "chamber music" format. It sounds very "un-plugged" (I know that's a catch-word). It actually sounds as if the songs were recorded in one take. They sound particularly spontaneous, though the lyrics are certainly not written in a second. They are well-crafted and they spell out societal issues in the most clear way I have heard for months.

Kelly Joe Phelps is a different kind of music. "Roll away the stone (1997)" and his latest CD "Shine eyed mister zen (1999)" are blues with a big "B". It's blues with one man and his guitar. Kelly Joe Phelps is exciting to say the least. His guitar play is outstanding in terms of emotion and intelligence. I have hardly heard anyone playing an acoustic guitar in such a comprehensive way. He simply is a master, and I have no idea where he learnt what he performs. Guess, it's in his genes somehow, though I can see him representing the best of blues guitar ever played on Mother Earth.

Phelps sings with an extraordinarily soft voice full of concern with each and every word he delivers. He "knows" what he's singing about. His songs are songs which go under my skin and stay there - much to my delight and sometimes dislike. I hardly use this term, but I feel Kelly Joe Phelps is truly human. With him, solidarity spells as a blues song ... I can't think of anything more appropriate in these times of money greed and power obsession.

Get up and add these fine CDs to your collection. And if you believe you don't need them now, be careful, you may need them tomorrow.

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