In 2013, longtime road pals Neil Finn and Paul Kelly toured Australia. One stellar show from the Sydney Opera House was impeccably recorded in crystal-clear audio, mixed by Bob Clearmountain, and quickly released Down Under. Now Omnivore Recordings is releasing Goin’ Your Way in the U.S.
The double album proves to be a not only a testament to the creative congeniality of these two artists, but a statement of their ongoing relevance, Finn for pure, deep pop-music brilliance, Kelly for the enduring power of melody and rhythm to remind a torn-apart world of our common humanity.
Finn’s frequently dark, drama-drenched writing mixes nicely with Kelly’s more straightforward folk and folk-rock songs. Buttery vocal harmonies top band arrangements that are generally fairly simple but fizz with anxious energy and plainspoken feeling. All this gives the album a tight, crisp feel, with some of the dangerous edge of live performance but no concert-recording sloppiness. By virtue of the musicians’ top-flight skills, all 29 tracks come from that single concert. The band is a family affair, with Finn’s son Elroy Finn on drums and Kelly’s nephew Dan Kelly on guitar, and the lineup rounded out by the superb bassist Zoe Hauptmann.
The optimism of Kelly’s songs is a pleasing counterweight to the seriousness of the sublime pop Finn has crafted over the decades with Crowded House, collaborating with his brother Tim Finn, on his own, and even going back to the days of Split Enz. The power of songs like “Private Universe,” “She Will Have Her Way,” and “Four Seasons in One Day” (Disc 1), as well as “Fall at Your Feet” and the unavoidable “Don’t Dream It’s Over” (Disc 2), haven’t diminished with time, being “for the ages,” to quote a hopelessly catchy song of Kelly’s from Disc 1.
Both singers are in excellent voice, sometimes taking vocal duties on each others’ songs; the decades show only in the wisdom of their delivery. The flavors of the show span a broad range: all-out rock (“Dumb Things”); audience singalongs (“Better Be Home Soon,” “One For The Ages”); smoky theatricality (“Into Temptation,” “Fall At Your Feet”); folk balladry (“You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed”); close-harmony blue-eyed soul (“Not the Girl You Think You Are”); easygoing folk-rock (“How to Make Gravy”); and even semi-psychedelia (“Sinner,” “Love is the Law”).
Two old chestnuts that close Disc 2 exemplify the broad spectrum of pop music that nurtured the great songwriters of the rock era. Illustrating opposite ends of the pop rainbow, the simple three-chord churn of Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love” contrasts with the sophisticated warmth of the group’s stripped-down take on the Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer standard “Moon River.” Neil Finn and Paul Kelly have dipped into many of the colors of that musical rainbow colors over a combined 80 years of troubadourhood.
While on balance Disc 1 has a slightly stronger song selection, the entire recording is well worth having for any fan of either or both of these artists, or for anyone looking for exciting songwriting and musicianship with multigenerational appeal. Just listen to the rave-up at the end of the Neil Finn/Tim Finn song “Won’t Give In” or the pounding beat of Kelly’s “Dumb Things” and you’ll know that after all this time, these guys still have energy to burn. This is no mere nostalgia set for longtime fans, but a living document of the power of music.
Goin’ Your Way is available in the U.S. beginning December 11.