Back in 1987 the newly married Jeff and Susanne Kelly released a kind of DIY album, Coffee in Nepal, now out of print. It has taken 27 years, but last month the Seattle couple, still married, have come out with a follow-up album, By Reckless Moonlight. Not that they’ve been idle over the years. Jeff is busy leading two bands, Green Pajamas and Goblin Market that released four projects between them last year. Susanne is a painter, and she has also worked on a number of albums, but music for her seems more an avocation than for Jeff.
Indeed, though the album credits both for the new album, Jeff does the lion’s share of the work. The liner notes say that Jeff and Susanne “made all the sounds” except the cello, which is credited simply to Phil. Jeff and Susanne are credited with writing four of the 13 pieces, Jeff all the rest. And though Susanne does take on one of the tunes, most of her contributions, beyond serving as an inspiration seems to be singing background. Frankly, this is really a Jeff Kelly project, and that’s a good thing.
Kelly can sell a subtle understated melody as he does on the album’s first track, “A Girl’s Game” and he can rock some as he does in “Coming to Find You.” Their songs, whoever wrote them, are sincere and intelligent. There are simple love songs. In “Rowboat to the Moon,” he asks his love to wear her “Gypsy dress” and “Show me the secret underneath your skin.” “Please Come Home” is a dirge for a love that has fled. He tells her he “used to live for your kiss/Never dreamed it would come to this”; the sun and the moon are meaningless now that his love is gone.
Then there are songs that make something of a social statement. “Cry, Cry, Maria Cry” is about a Brazilian prostitute: “Who is this daughter nobody claims/Here for the men that have no names.” Vanda’s room, the subject of two of the songs, is “safe as a tomb.” It is a “smoky womb” where we can get high. Cynthia, in “Never Tell,” is the tragedy of a black-haired Mexican whose “skin speaks of heaven reeks of sin.”
There is poetry in these songs. They are the kind you will want to hear again and again.
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