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Patrick Phelan

Richmond, Virginia's Patrick Phelan, who first cut his teeth as the primary songwriter in the gentle, idiosyncratic ambient pop combo South in the late '90s, has now established himself as an accomplished solo artist. His acoustic pop songs have a lot of the ambient, atmospheric feel of South; he plays with a number of recognizable idioms -- Brazilian bossanova, country rock, folk, singer-songwriter confessionals, even hymns -- to create a heady, deeply personal sound. The foundation is several layers of guitars: rhythm guitar strum, some fingerpicking, and some tremulous and chiming electric guitar parts. Phelan adds gentle percussion, occasional piano, and some absolutely lovely cornet flourishes. He sings about half the time, his voice like a warm night breeze, light and reassuring.

On his 2000 debut album, Songs of Patrick Phelan, he offers a consistently good set of introspective, personal compositions in the vein of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Mark Eitzel, and the more reflective side of John Lennon. It's a pleasure to listen to; thoughtful, languid, stately, and carefully arranged without feeling tight or rigid. On the record, Phelan enlists the aid of Drunk members J.T. Yost on piano and Via Nuon on violin (they were returning a favor; Phelan guested on two Drunk albums), as well as Phil Murphy (lapslide) and Paul Watson (cornet), but Phelan plays everything else himself. The dark and delicate "A Moment A Broken," which features absolutely exquisite cornet playing, and the haunting "Midwest" are the featured songs from that album.

Phelan's sophomore follow-up, Parlor, picks up where the debut left off. His compositions are impeccably tailored, brilliantly thought out, and beautifully restrained. Cornet, piano, and sultry tropical percussion dominate "Crippled For," complementing Phelan's introspective croon. On "Arch & Effort," haunting lap steel and guitar create cool, gothic, ever-so-slightly country-inflected textures. These tracks are emblematic of the album's stylish moodiness.

Phelan also plays occasional piano, guitar, bass, and percussion in support of Drunk singer Richard Alverson's solo project, Spokane.