Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Paul Kelly: "Greatest Hits: Songs From The South Volumes 1 & 2" (2011) CD Review

Paul Kelly is an amazing songwriter, something that is immediately apparent when listening to this collection, which features a good range of songs. Sure, there are a couple of Dylanesque folk tunes, but also some more rock-related tunes like "Darling It Hurts" or "Pouring Petrol On A Burning Man." Others, like "Before Too Long," are in more of a pop vein.

These songs aren't dated, though they span nearly twenty-five years (from 1985 to 2008). And though he changes genres with different songs, each time it feels right, feels natural. It's not like a folkie who suddenly straps on an electric guitar, or a rocker who puts out an "unplugged" album. And whatever realm he's working in, the lyrics are always interesting. Some of these songs are great stories. This is an album you'll want to pay attention to, but which will also get you tapping your feet and even dancing at times. The more I listen to this album, the more I love it. I'm almost embarrassed to admit this is the first Paul Kelly album I've owned. Have I wasted twenty-five years of my life?

"From St. Kilda To Kings Cross"

This collection opens with "From St. Kilda To Kings Cross," a song that reminds me just a bit of Billy Bragg, mostly in the electric guitar and vocals, but also in lines like "Fairweather friends are the hungriest friends." And suddenly Chris Coyne comes in on sax, a strange and welcome surprise. "From St. Kilda To Kings Cross" is from Paul Kelly's1985 record, Post.

"Dumb Things"

"Dumb Things" is one of my favorites. It's a pop tune with a simple but infectious rock rhythm. I love his vocals. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "In the middle of a dream/I lost my shirt, I pawned my rings/I've done all the dumb things." He even howls a bit on the word "howl" in the line, "hung my heart on the moon, started howling."

I love these lines: "And I get all your good advice/Never stops me from going through these things twice." Is it that we can relate to it? Possibly. But regardless, it's such a damn good song. It's from 1987's Under The Sun. Chris Wilson plays harmonica on this track. Chris Coyne plays saxophone.

"Everything's Turning To White"

"Everything's Turning To White" is another song that reminds me a bit of Billy Bragg. Again, it's the guitar. This song is just Paul on vocals and guitar. Nothing else is needed. And part of it is done as spoken word, but it doesn't sound of place. It's not jarring, as sudden spoken word sections sometimes are. It's actually a pretty powerful song. And I particularly love his voice on this one.

The last lines are "When he holds me now I'm pretending/I feel like I'm frozen inside/And behind my eyes, my daily disguise/Everything's turning to white." Only when he finishes and the audience applauds do I realize it's a live track.


"Careless" is a cool tune. It oddly reminds me a bit of Tracy Chapman. Go figure. Paul Kelly plays harmonica on it. Paulinho Da Costa is on percussion. "I know I've been careless/I lost my tenderness."

"From Little Things Big Things Grow"

"From Little Things Big Things Grow" is an odd, sweet and catchy pop-folk tune. It has a sort of waltz thing going on. Ian Simpson pays banjo on this one. Paul plays harmonica, and it's those moments when the song sounds a bit like Dylan - although there are moments in the vocals when he comes to mind too. I love the backing vocals near the end. This song is just wonderful. It does go a bit mad in the last minute, and ends with didgeridoo (played by Ernie Dingo).

On "When I First Met Your Ma" Paul sounds like Dylan right from the first line. This song is Paul Kelly solo - on vocals, guitar and harmonica.

"Nothing On My Mind"

The second disc opens with "Nothing On My Mind," which starts with Paul saying, "Yup, here we go." Indeed. This second disc starts off with a good rock tune with a solid rhythm. It's done in spoken word: "You wouldn't believe the crap I've had to deal with this week." And: "Fighting the bulls is one thing; fighting bullshit is another."

The verses are all done in a spoken word fashion, and it works. The only problem is that the song doesn't really go anywhere, so it becomes a bit repetitive. The good rhythm becomes a relentless rhythm, and the song, which feels like it's building toward something, never breaks to the next plateau. Instead it fades out.

"Nothing On My Mind" is from the 1998 album Words And Music, a title that conjures fond memories of Eddie And The Cruisers.

"Love Letter"

"Love Letter" is a sort of sweet pop song in which he's writing a letter to go back to when his life was better. Paul sings to this woman, "You're every rich man's friend/You're every poor boy's dream/I want to make a deep connection/Between you and me." I like Bruce Haymes' work on keys.


Paul Kelly strays into country and bluegrass territory with "Our Sunshine," one of two tracks from his 1999 release Smoke to be included on this disc. It features fiddle and mandolin. I love the instrumental section at the end.

"Gathering Storm," the other tune off Smoke, is one of the most beautiful songs on this album. It's a sweet acoustic number, with some nice harmonies and good work by Gerry Hale on lap steel.

"Every Fucking City"

"Every Fucking City" is one of my favorites. It's about a couple with a somewhat tempestuous relationship. He follows her through various cities of Europe, but just can't quite make the connection with her again. Early in the song Paul sings, "We split up for a while in Barcelona/We met up six days later in Madrid/I was hoping that the break would make things go a little better for us/And for a little while it almost did."

These lines will get a laugh from most music fans: "Now I'm in a night club in Helsinki/And they're playing 'La Vida Loca' once again. And I can't believe I'm dancing to this crap." Remember that song? Of course you do. I'm fairly adept at avoiding annoying pop songs, but even I couldn't escape that one. Neither could Paul Kelly. "Every fucking city sounds the same," he sings.

I love these lines: "And on the Reeperbahn I paid a woman far too much/To kick me out before I'd even reached my goal." This song even has an Arnold Schwarzenegger reference, which gets a laugh from the audience. (It's a live track.)

"Be Careful What You Pray For"

"Be Careful What You Pray For" reminds me of Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed," which was featured in the film Wonder Boys (2000). Paul sings, "You finally make it to your place in the sun/You stop and look around you/You're friends with no one/Be careful what you want now/You might be sorry." This song is also from a soundtrack - to Silent Partner (2001).

"If I Could Start Today Again"

"If I Could Start Today Again" is a wonderful song. It's a sad acoustic song about regrets. It starts off with these lines: "All the kings and queens in The Bible/They could not turn back time/So what chance have I of a miracle in this life of mine?/I only want one day/To unsay the things I said/Undo the thing I did/Twenty-four little hours/Oh god, please wipe them all away/And I promise I will change/If I could start today again."

Wow. Have these feelings been expressed so powerfully, so clearly in another song? He begs, in a voice full of regret and shame, "Please give me back today/And I won't say the things I said or do that thing I did."

"Gunnamatta" is the only instrumental track in this collection. It has at times a bit of a dark surf sound, which is always cool.

"Your Lovin' Is On My Mind"

One of the best folk songs on this album is "Your Lovin' Is On My Mind." It's simple, sweet, and rings true. It features a nice instrumental section. But of course it's the vocals that really make this song work. Paul sings, "You're a miracle, girl, I never understand/Ooh, your lovin' is on my mind."

"Your Lovin' Is On My Mind" is from Paul Kelly's 2004 release, Ways & Means.

"You're 39, You're Beautiful And You're Mine"

The first time I listened to this album, when the CD reached "You're 39, You're Beautiful And You're Mine," I was immediately taken with it. When the song ended, I pressed the back arrow on my CD player, let it play again. And then again. And again. After maybe six or seven times, I finally let the CD continue on to the last two tracks. Then I went back and listened to "You're 39" a few more times. I absolutely love this song.

The first thing that will grab you and delight you is Dan Luscombe's work on keyboard. That short section is so adorable and catchy and to my ear reminiscent of the best of the oldies, which makes sense as this song works partly as a reference to "You're Sixteen" (which has the line, "You're sixteen, you're beautiful and your mine").

I could listen to just that part over and over and be happy. But Paul's lyrics are so beautiful and moving, and he sings them with such love in his voice. Here is a taste of the lyrics: "I don't talk all that much/About how I feel and such/Though I try to keep in touch with this heart of mine/Now I'm going to speak out loud/Because it makes me feel so proud/That we're standing the test of time/You're 39, you're beautiful and you're mine."

Later he sings, "You still take my breath away in the morning light." Ah, if we could all have that. In a collection that is full of excellent material, this song is far and away my favorite.

CD Track List

Disc One:
  1. From St. Kilda To Kings Cross
  2. Leaps And Bounds
  3. Before Too Long
  4. Darling It Hurts
  5. Look So Fine, Feel So Low
  6. Dumb Things
  7. To Her Door
  8. Bradman
  9. Everything's Turning To White
  10. Sweet Guy
  11. Careless
  12. Winter Coat
  13. From Little Things Big Things Grow
  14. When I First Met Your Ma
  15. Pouring Petrol On A Burning Man
  16. Love Never Runs On Time
  17. Song From The Sixteenth Floor
  18. Deeper Water
  19. Give In To My Love
  20. How To Make Gravy
Disc Two:
  1. Nothing On My Mind
  2. I'll Be Your Lover
  3. Love Letter
  4. Our Sunshine
  5. Gathering Storm
  6. Every Fucking City
  7. Be Careful What You Pray For
  8. Love Is The Law
  9. If I Could Start Today Again
  10. The Oldest Story In The Book
  11. Won't You Come Around
  12. Gunnamatta
  13. Your Lovin' Is On My Mind
  14. Song Of The Old Rake
  15. They Thought I Was Asleep
  16. Everybody Loves You Baby
  17. God Told Me To
  18. You're 39, You're Beautiful And You're Mine
  19. Thoughts In The Middle Of The Night
  20. Shane Warne

Greatest Hits: Songs From The South Volumes 1 & 2 is scheduled to be released October 25, 2011. It's already available as a digital release (as of September 6th), but of course it's always better to own the disc - that way you get the liner notes and everything.

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