There's immediate appeal to the clarity of this Washington state musician's fourth album, on which he has abandoned his forced, slide-guitar faux-blues for a mix of Nick Drake grace, Bruce Cockburn stoicism and early Tom Waits barfly poetics. The spare acoustic atmospheres, built around Phelps' nimble but never showy fingerpicking and just-gruff-enough voice, are perfect for his sharp-eyed character studies--though it's still too familiar to hold true distinction. Phelps plays the Largo on Wednesday and Thursday.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.