Album Reviews

Paul Kelly

Seven Sonnets & A Song

Artist:     Paul Kelly

Album:     Seven Sonnets & A Song

Label:     Cooking Vinyl

Release Date:     07/29/2016

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It takes a certain amount of literary license to put Shakespeare’s sonnets to song, and while Rufus Wainwright attempted it on his album Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, suffice it to say Wainwright is the type of artist more inclined towards accentuating the drama as a matter of routine. Consequently, it’s somewhat surprising that Paul Kelly, Australia’s renowned singer/songwriter in his own right, would focus his ambitions with an album devoted entirely to the Bard’s prose. Granted, Shakespeare’s work has a natural flow of its own, but the wordiness of the work and the absence of hooks and choruses makes the music somewhat cumbersome sans an obvious embrace. To his credit, Kelly doesn’t compromise for the sake of accessibility, and his way with melodies — as demonstrated in the jazzy cabaret approach he takes with “Sonnet 138” and the shimmer of steel guitars the uses to coax and caress “Sonnet 73” — make these selections little more than a pleasant pastime. To be sure, there is at least one well defined cover here, “O Mistress Mine,” the Clown’s Song from Twelfth Night. Yet it’s hardly the kind of thing that’s likely to propel Kelly and Shakespeare to the top of the charts or even bring them a broader base. So despite the stately selections and Kelly’s ambitious intents, one can’t help but miss the wit and wisdom he invests in his own lyrics as well. Consequently, Seven Songs & A Sonnet becomes a diversion of sorts, a way to while away the time before Kelly’s next official outing.

– Lee Zimmerman

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