If there’s one form of music I truly hate, it’s modern blues. Since the late 1950s, only Howlin’ Wolf, Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits have brought something new to the game, with most blues players content to desecrate its corpse with overblown rehash. One guy that gets it right is Kelly Joe Phelps. It may be a little traditionalist for my tastes, but the Sumner, Wash., native nails his gospel Delta blues. His voice and guitar cut to the bone working not as two separate instruments but as one — invoking Mississippi Fred McDowell and Charley Patton without sounding like a well-intentioned parody. Like the great early players, there’s a disarming intimacy to his music that confesses its truths without fanfare. It’s a deeply human sound and one that’s as old as time, but rarely is it played with such genuine presence and melodic restraint. Kelly Joe Phelps plays Thursday, Feb. 27, at Ashland Coffee and Tea. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $16 in advance and $20 at the door. ashlandcoffeeandtea.com.— Chris Bopst
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