Album Reviews

Paul Kelly

Life is Fine

Artist:     Paul Kelly

Album:     Life is Fine

Label:     Gawd Aggie/Cooking Vinyl

Release Date:     08.11.2017


Australian icon Paul Kelly with a full band will be taking his first North American tour in 13 years behind this rocking, melodic release that hearkens back somewhat to his work from the ’80s with the Messengers. The R&B groove in the opener, “Rising Moon,” together with the soaring guitar and keyboards sets the stage immediately for other buoyant tunes like “Fire wood and Candles” and “Rock Out on the Sea.” Kelly says, “I knew I wanted it to be an upbeat record. [His last titled release was Death’s Dateless Night.] We worked with Steve Schram, who engineered and co-produced. He likes to work really fast and get the performance of the band live in the studio, vocals and all at the same time. There are lots of different ways to make records but that’s the way I like to do it now.”

Kelly’s accompanying musicians are long-time collaborators and he features two of his favorite female vocalists, Vika and Linda Bull. Vika sings the Bessie Smith-inspired “My Man’s Got a Cold” and Linda sings the Kelly-penned “Don’t Explain.” Other notable tracks include the bouncy “Leah: The Sequel, the literate” “Letter in the Rain,” and the brooding “Petrichor.”

You can always count on Kelly to find new ways to express his creativity. Consider his last three efforts: duets of his favorite funeral songs, putting Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, and gathering folks like the Bulls for a soul record. A major songwriting breakthrough for Kelly came after writing his autobiography How to Make Gravy. Five years ago, he was asked by the Australian National Academy of Music to write a song cycle for their students with a modern classical composer. Until this point, he had always formed the musical idea first and added the lyrics later. Now he’s become quite skilled at doing it the opposite way (i.e. Shakespeare). While the dozen tracks here seem all Kelly penned, the closing title track done in a folk style, is music adapted to a poem by American poet Langston Hughes. Kelly comments, “At first I worried about Life Is Fine as a title because life is not fine for everyone, but I like the original meaning of fine, as in life is a fine thread. We never know what is going to happen the very next minute, or what is just around the corner.”

This finely crafted collection of tunes, full of catchy hooks, engaging lyrics, and rich harmonies will have you looking forward to catching Kelly live. He hits the East Coast in mid-September.

— Jim Hynes

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