About 10 years ago in a small London theater, Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly delivered a set with as much intensity—and dry humor—as I've ever seen from one man and a guitar. Before that night, I'd never heard of him. The mainly expat Australian audience in the sold-out theater, knew every word and welcomed him as their national treasure. I've witnessed the same reverence at subsequent live shows here in Washington DC where he shows up from time to time.
For 30 years Kelly has had legendary status back in Australia, first on the pub-rock scene in the 1980's and subsequently for his solo work and collaborations. Throughout he's proven to be a first rate songwriter. He writes with a grown-up eye about relationships, failure, personal struggles; intelligent and insightful songs which temper sentiment with a clear-sighted realism.
His latest album, Spring and Fall, continues the tradition with songs which trace the arc of a relationship. From the exuberance and hope of new-love the songs progress through to restlessness, uncertainty, loss anger and resolution. Kelly's clear intention was to craft an album to be experienced from start to finish. The songs are sequenced to take the listener through the range of emotions and, in typical Kelly style, there are the hints and sly shifts which signal the relationship changes. After the tenderness of the opening songs, we hear Kelly's promise "I'm Gonna Be Good". Anyone familiar with his work knows it's not going to go well…after all isn't he the bloke who in one of his best known songs sang "I've Done All the Dumb Things!" Sure enough, in the next song Kelly's singing "I just want to sleep with someone new". Before we know it, he's complaining "she's as cold as Canada" in the inevitable leaving song. Kelly's genius is that he doesn't leave it there…but let's not give away the whole game.
The song titles alone provide an insight into Kelly's appeal. His exploration is intense, personal and voiced in everyday conversational language. He 'gets it'—life's complex, tough and joyous but it's not rocket science—and he delivers an emotional hit with a melodic punch. The musical context on the album is largely acoustic with a small combo (double bass, guitars, drums, keys). It's a barebones accompaniment, beautifully recorded live in an Australian church hall. The songs of Paul Kelly need nothing more.
The album is highly recommended. It's classic Paul Kelly in content and style, incorporating folk, country and bluegrass influences. Do listen to it from start to finish…better yet go see him if he comes to town near you.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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