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Music Review: Paul Kelly – Greatest Hits – Songs From The South Vol. 1 & 2

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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.

Paul Kelly And The Colored Girls–Dumb Things
Disk two covers the years 1998 through 2008, and includes songs from his Top- 20 albums Words and Music, Professor Ratbaggy, Nothing But A Dream and Stolen Apples as well as project ensembles such as Stardust Five and his solo hits. One of my favorites is a road song “Every Fucking City,” a tongue (only partially) in cheek take of touring night after night. Also included are the previously unreleased “Thoughts In The Middle Of The Night” and “Shane Warne,” whose melody is based on the Lord Kitchner calypso song “London Is The Place For Me.”

If you’re already a fan of Kelly,  then you probably already know that he is doing a whirlwind American tour covering the A-Z repertoire. That’s 100 songs, done in alphabetical order with stories in between. It should be some kind of experience. Last night and tonight he is in Chicago at Schuba’s; Los Angeles September 14-15 at the Hotel Café; Vancouver, B.C.  September 18-19 at the Electric Ow; Toronto September 23-24 at The Dakota Tavern; and New York September 26-27 at the Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2. Check your local ticket outlets for times. Fans of great music will not want to miss this.
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About The Dirty Lowdown

I was born in Pomona, California at a very young age. I had a pretty normal childhood…or I was a pretty normal child hood if mom is telling the story. I was a paperboy and washed cars. I was a soda fountain jock-jerk and a manic mechanic but my first real job was as a labor organizer in a maternity ward. Then, because of the misjudgment of a judge I spent nearly 10 years in the service of our country mostly on KP duty. Our country sure turns out a lot of dirty dishes. I am a past master at pots and pans. They eventually recognized my real talent and let me wander around some very unfriendly places carrying a big radio that didn’t work. Along the way I took up the bass guitar, jotting down stories, electronic engineering and earned a degree in advanced criminal activities. I spent most of my adult life, if you can call it that, working in the I.T. industry, which I was particularly suited for since we worked in rooms with no windows. On and off I taught in colleges, universities and reform schools as a student teacher… I like smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, and crowded seedy bars where I have been known to quote Raymond Chandler as pickup lines. I have always been a voracious reader, everything from the classics, to popular fiction, history to science but I have a special place in my heart for crime fiction, especially hard-boiled detective fiction and noir. I write a book and music review blog for all genres at The Dirty Lowdown. And another dedicated to Crime Fiction and all things Noir called Crimeways. It’s named after the magazine that appeared in the Kenneth Fearing classic, The Big Clock. There I write scholarly reviews of the classic hard boiled, noir and crime fiction books from the 20's through today. Mostly I drool over the salacious pictures on the covers. I also write for Tecnorati/BlogCritics where i am part of a sinister cabal of superior writers.
  • CFig

    Um, “technically” the Bee Gees are from Manchester (England), not Australia…

  • loosetalk

    Correction: The Bee Gees were were born on the Isle of Man, moved to England and then to Australia.

  • Nadyne

    It’s good to see Paul Kelly getting some attention in the US, but there’s some inaccuracies here. He’s been doing the A-Z shows in Australia since 2001, it wasn’t just a single event in 2004. The US versions of them are only 50 songs in 2 nights, instead of the 100 songs in 4 nights in Australia. “Every Fucking City” isn’t about touring, but rather about the quintessinal Aussie experience of spending a few months backpacking in Europe — in this, with an on-again off-again lover (how else do you explain the lyric “now I’m in a bar in Copenhagen trying hard to forget your name”, or any other lyric in the song?).

  • http://the-dirty-lowdown.blogspot.com/ The Dirty Lowdown

    Paul states (or his web master anyhow) on his site that he started the A-Z Tours in 2004 http://www.paulkellystore.com.au/music/detail.aspx?pid=64978

    And I understand that the A-Z shows are ofetn broken up into different sets. In the UK he did the 100 songs over 4 nights (still in alphabetical order).the press release for the short US/Canada tour maxe it to be 104 songs but didn’t make it sound like they would be broken up since each city was only one night. Tho’ it would be hard to think 100 songs could be performed (with stories in between) in one sitting over even a 4 – 5 hour concert. Still, I went with the press release. As for Every Fucking City, I, as a listener, certainly inturputed it to be about touring, even the verse you cite here. Course, I am not familiar with backpacking in the Outback. Great thing about music, each listener gets to take his own meaning from the song….unless that listener is Charlie Manson and the song is Helter Skelter ;-)then we better bring in the lyric police.

  • John

    The double CD set, Greatest Hits isn’t released until Oct 25th according to my local record store – but it will also only be $13.99 or less. So that’s a great value. If I trusted the link on this site I’d have overpaid for an import version – thanks (not) Amazon.

  • http://the-dirty-lowdown.blogspot.com/ The Dirty Lowdown

    Yeah, I understand the MP3 is available (from Amazon) now and the CD is going to be available the middle end of October. I have nothing to do with pricing ;-)