As a longtime fan of Aussie pop and blue-eyed soul in general, the idea behind Paul Kelly Presents: The Merri Soul Sessions immediately appealed to me. It is not at all what I expected however, as the music on this disc is much closer to the real deal than I had ever imagined.
Kelly has been part of the Australian music scene for many years. In fact, he was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1997. When I come across an artist like him, it always fascinates me how they could remain so relatively unknown here in the States. That may change with The Merri Soul Sessions however, as this record has “critic’s darling” written all over it.
The Merri Soul Sessions features a cast of rotating vocalists, and the feeling is one of an all-star summit. Including Kelly himself, there are six featured singers who perform solo and in tandem over the course of the 11 songs.
“Smells Like Rain” is the opening track, with the deeply soulful voice of Linda Bull leading the charge on this mid-tempo bluesy mourner. Linda’s sister Vika Bull is up next with “What You Want,” which could pass for something straight out of the Stax/Volt catalog. “Keep On Coming Back for More” is the first single, and is a showcase for Clairy Browne. Her voice is great, but what really caught my attention on this song was the vintage organ solo by Cameron Bruce.
“Sweet Guy” marks a bit of a change from classic, mournful soul to a more modern R&B sound. Vika Bull is back, and her voice is marvelous. “Sweet Guy“ is the lone “oldie“ on the set, and was first released by Paul Kelly and the Messengers back in 1989.
“Righteous Woman” marks the first appearance of the man himself. There is no way around the fact that Kelly sounds like very much like the Dylan of the ’70s. I do not mean this as the back-handed compliment as it may sound like, as this song would have fit in well on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming.
Dan Sultan takes the lead on “Don’t Let a Good Thing Go.” As another point of reference, the song one reminds me of another personal favorite, The Mona Lisa’s Sister from Graham Parker. The sweet soul is more modern than that of the earlier tracks, but no less effective.
Browne’s finest performance comes on the ballad “Where Where You When I Needed You.” Kelly’s singing on “Thank You” is again reminiscent of Mr. D, but by this point it has become obvious that is no affectation. He simply sounds a lot like him. The final guest is Kira Puru, who takes the lead on “I Don’t Know What I’d Do,” a torch song extraordinaire.
“Down On the Jetty” is a country-inflected pairing of the sisters Linda and Vika Bull. Finally we come to “Hasn’t It Rained,” with Kelly and the Bull sisters trading off on this old-fashioned gospel shouter. It was an excellent choice to close the record with, and rounds out what really is an all-star Aussie cast record.
The Merri Soul Sessions has been released on every platform, but the one I would really like to get is the limited-edition seven-inch box set. Of course, that one is a bit more expensive than the good old CD or download, but it still looks mighty cool. In any event, this is an album I am grateful to have been turned on to, and it is definitely recommended.
[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00QJPN8EA]