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Jeff Phelps - Magnetic Eyes

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Artist: Jeff Phelps

Album: Magnetic Eyes

Label: Tomlab

Review date: Mar. 4, 2011

Jeff Phelps, a nuclear engineer from outside Houston, Texas, recorded Magnetic Eyes at home on a Tascam Portastudio in 1985. With technological limitations, very little knowledge of recording techniques, and only a handful of instruments to play around with, he managed to create a minor masterpiece in this boogie LP, which sounds a little Prince here, a little Bridges-era Gil Scott-Heron there, with maybe a touch of Stevie Wonder and even a hint of Steely Dan (which may or may not be appealing to everyone... I don’t count myself among the Becker/Fagan faithful). Phelps said in a recent interview about the album, "it wasn’t really jazz, and it wasn’t really funk, and it certainly wasn’t disco"… but it’s actually kind of all three, sometimes all at the same time.

Considering the inherent limitations of one guy playing every instrument, Magnetic Eyes sounds remarkably hi-fi and professional. This does not sound one bit like an album that was recorded with a Radio Shack mic and mixed down onto multiple generations of audio cassette tape. The instruments and vocals are thick and full and the interplay between Phelps’ keyboards, saxophone, drum programming and deep soulful vocals are incredibly organic. All by himself, he sounds like a real band, and a pretty amazing one at that. The man had serious talent, as did the young singer Antoinette Marie Pugh, whose crystal-clear voice graces two of the album’s best cuts, "Don’t Fall Apart On Me" and "Hear My Heart."

Tomlab’s vinyl-only pressing of Magnetic Eyes sounds and looks great and puts a much-desired ’80s rarity into a sane price range for non-crazy and/or non-rich record collectors and DJs. If you need some mellow bedroom boogie funk for your next late-night dance party, look no further. File under: one of the most unfortunately slept-on but absolutely essential reissues of 2010.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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