Paul Kelly – Nature (review)

Paul Kelly – Nature (Cooking Vinyl)

There is simply no one like Paul Kelly.  The Australian singer/songwriter has been creating music for over 40 years now, yet unlike most of his contemporaries – he’s showing no signs of slowing down.  You cannot name another artist that has been both this consistent and yet continues to break new ground. His latest album, Nature, is another in a long line of triumphs.

Back in 2016, Kelly released Seven Sonnets & a Song, where he put music to several works by William Shakespeare.  This opened up a whole new approach to songwriting, which he again used for the closing track to last year’s Life is Fine (adding music to a poem by Langston Hughes).  Now for Nature, his 24th album, the majority of the album is comprised of poems, either from legendary poets, or Kelly himself.

The disc opens with the acoustic churning of “Death Will Have No Dominion,” which is a poem from Dylan Thomas – yet it comes of as a Paul Kelly tune with classic jangle.  “With the One I Love” shares some of the chord progressions of the similiarly-titled song from R.E.M. It’s another great rocker that harkens back to his best Eighties’ work with the Messengers.

Kelly plays the self-deprecating outsider in his moody composition, “A Bastard Like Me,” before giving way to the gentle “Little Wolf,” which features some haunting violin and Wurlitzer. This cleverly segues into “With Animals,” based on a poem by Walt Whitman, and then another chilling piece, “Bound to Follow (Aisling Song),” which is bolstered by a spine-chilling, wordless vocal by Kate Miller-Heidke.  This quartet of songs all seem to evoke a mood, examining the different aspects of being in the wilderness – whether it be warmth, fear, rejection, longing, or the thrill of what could be right around the corner.

Things switch ever so slightly for “Seagulls of Seattle” – the warmth returns for another in a long line of Kelly love songs.  “Mushrooms,” based on a poem by Sylvia Platt, is another highlight.  The song is so delicate, it’s barely there, while a Wurlitzer tinkles in the background.  The disc closes with the gorgeous “The Trees,” with words by Phillip Larkin and a harmony vocal by Alice Keath.  The instrumentation is absolute perfection – the echoed guitars somehow capture the lyrics.  The song ends abruptly at a mere 1:30 before Kelly counts off and it gets a much-needed coda.

If I was to use one word to describe Paul Kelly and his new album, it would be warmth.  Even when he’s trying to be biting or spooky, there’s still a human element, a skin-on-skin quality to the music that is undeniable.  As the weather grows colder, there is something inviting about a new Paul Kelly album – going perfect with a hot cup of cocoa and a warm fire.  —Tony Peters