Joel RL Phelps and the Downer Trio – Gala

Triple Crown Audio

If you’re talking underappreciated songwriters Joel RL Phelps is as underdog as they get. Despite being the onetime frontman of ’90s alt-rock heroes Silkworm the Vancouver-based songwriter and his brand of drama-fuelled rock ’n’ roll have always existed on the edges. It also probably doesn’t help that he hasn’t released an album with his Downer Trio in nearly a decade. Finally following up 2004’s Customs though Phelps is showing few signs of wear.

With returning bassist Robert Mercer and drummer William Herzog Phelps is back exploring a formula similar to that of years past on comeback effort Gala though not without a few new tricks up his sleeve. For one the album is the band’s most rhythm-focused — drums play high in the mix as the trio weave their cross of grunge-meets-Midwestern roots rock. There’s also more branching out instrumentally periodically pairing Phelps’ frequently fuzzed-out guitar play with treated pianos ethereal synths and less traditional percussive tools.

At its core the album still shines the spotlight on Phelps’ picturesque storytelling sounding more down and out than ever as his lyrics filter out of his nasal baritone. By the sounds of things he’s been some dark places recently but for those wanting back the Phelps of old he’s most definitely returned.