America has Bob Dylan, the U.K. has The Beatles, Canada gave us The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Oddly, Australia, has exported very few artists to the shores of North America. Technically The Bee Gees were Australian; so were Olivia Newton John and Men At Work.
But Paul Kelly is the iconic Australian answer to Dylan, The Beatles, and Young, and at times throughout his career he has been the Australian answer to The Byrds, Tom Petty, John Prine, Leonard Cohen and a host of other folk/rock/pop stars.
His music runs the gamut from A-Z. If you are not acquainted with Kelly’s body of work, here is another chance, as this 2008 compilation is now available in America. Songs from the South is being released along with the eight-CD, 105-song live box set The A-Z Recordings. The accompanying book, How to Make Gravy, chronicles a 2004 event where Kelley performed over 100 of his songsin alphabetical order, and in between songs told stories about how they came to be written.
Kelly is a natural born storyteller, and the tales between songs cover confessions, personal and family histories as well as what it’s like to be a travelling musician. The writing is revealtory, funny, cynically honest, and thought-provoking. The lyrics and stories in the book cover the vast culture of Australia and may be eye-opening for an American audience.
The album, Songs From The South Vol. 1 & 2, is a cross section of Kelly’s career, from his days as Paul Kelly and the Colored Girls (changed to Paul Kelly and the Messengers, initially for international releases, to avoid any possible racist interpretations). He disbanded the Messengers in 1991, and since then has formed other groups as projects demanded.
Disk one covers the years with The Messengers, and opens with the pub rock/folky flavored “From St. Kilda to Kings Cross.” Other memorable tunes from this early period are the top forty hits “Before Too Long,” “Darling It Hurts,” and the highest charting Australian hit “To Her Door” as well as “Dumb Things.” Released back in 1988, the latter song was featured on the soundtrack to the Australian box office hit comedy Young Einstein, reaching number 17 on the American rock charts.