Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This esteemed singer/songwriter has a 40 year music career, but he isn’t so well known in The US of A because he hails from Australia. That is the only reason that I can think of as to why he hasn’t “blown up” in the United States. His music is of the highest quality, both lyrically and musically. Paul has been described this way, “He is to Australia what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey and what Ray Davies is to England.” Pretty fine compliment, but Kelly has earned those accolades.
Kelly was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1955. Kelly had visions of becoming a short story writer after he finished up with school. Paul was writing poetry and didn’t really pick up the guitar until he was well into his teen years. It is not sur[rising that even before Kelly was an established musician, he wanted to have a vocation that required creativity and artistic aptitude.
Paul’s first “big band” was Paul Kelly & The Dots. They completed two albums, Talk and Manila, before Kelly disbanded the group in 1984. Kelly moved to Sydney, where he recorded his first solo album, Post. This album has been described as the equivalent of Springsteen’s Nebraska. Post did not chart well; however, it has been inspiring musicians worldwide for over 30 years.
That is a bit of the background on a musician who has been compared to Davies, Dylan, and Springsteen. So that was then, this is now. How do I describe Kelly’s sound, current state? I am back to the wine analogy: I hear some folk, 50s rock and roll, country (plenty of twang), and 60s pop. I think that pretty much catches everything under this wide umbrella. Kelly has a tremendous number of musicians that inspire his music. Inspire, not define. Paul’s style is singular.
As I listen repeatedly, one song continually garners my attention. Leah: The Sequel (Track 6) is stuck to me like airplane glue. I cannot get this song out of my head, and frankly, it is fine right where it is. This song starts of a little like Fever and gently touched Neil Diamond territory ala Holly Holy. Lyrically, this song is in a class that climbs altitudes similar to Everest’s peak. Feast your eyes on this:
I came to on the beach Somebody pushing up and down on my chest I was coughing salty water Up above me, Leah looking mighty distressed She said, “Baby, you’re so lucky You nearly went to your final rest” Well, my hand was clenched I was still holding that pearl so tight When they prized my fingers open Leah’s dark eyes opened up so wide I heard her say, “I love you, baby Oh, my heart is nearly bursting my side”
Solid songwriting that evoke strong, strong images. The illustrations are so vivid, I would think maybe I picked up the wrong soft drink. But no, this with any “brain helper”.
All of the songs on this 12 song collection are extremely tight, both lyrically and musically. It is hard to pick a lot of standouts when everything is top tier, but I think I can pick another one. How about Rising Moon (Track 1)? Another thought provoking song by a songwriter that has a string of these that would rival the biggest ball of twine in Cawker City, KS.
No time like the present. Life Is Fine is a perfect entry poi t into the wonderful world of Australia’s Paul Kelly. Once you delve into this one. your cravings will deepen and you will explore the rest of the Paul Kelly Lexicon. Don’t fight it, these urges are natural, take it from one who knows.