Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky – Please Leave Your Light On (review)

Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky – Please Leave Your Light On (Gawdaggie/Cooking Vinyl)

Forever restless, the underrated Aussie songwriter teams with a piano great for an inviting walk through his extensive catalog

The first word that comes to mind when I hear Paul Kelly is warmth.  There’s something real, honest, and inviting to his music.  With chaos surrounding us, we could all use a little of those traits to soothe our souls.  

The Australian songwriter has been on a hot streak for several years now, releasing a string of fine albums – everything from an electric soul album, to a record where he put music to the poetry of Shakespeare – all of that conveys an artist that is always searching for his next muse.

Throughout his long career, Kelly has mainly used the guitar as the instrument to embody his songs.  With his latest release, Please Leave Your Light On, he joins pianist Paul Grabowsky for a journey through his catalog, with just Kelly’s voice and Grabowsky’s piano.  The pianist has often been compared to the great Bill Evans, who was known for his innate melodicism.  He truly is the perfect companion to breathe new life into Kelly’s songs.

The album opens with “True to You,” the only Kelly composition not to appear on a previous record;  its chord progression and gentle pace harken back to the Great American Songbook.  That’s followed by a reworking of “Petrichor” from 2017’s Life is Fine – while the original has a yearning quality with its steel guitar accompaniment, this new rendition seems less tethered to the ground, giving it an ethereal essence not present in the original.

Ditto for “When a Woman Loves a Man,” a fantastic track off of 2012’s Spring and Fall.  In Grabowski’s hands, he composes this gorgeous intro that just sets up the lyrics perfectly – comparing the two, the new one just gives me chills.

“Sonnet 138,” originally from his 2016 project pairing his melodies with the words of Shakespeare, the song goes from an acoustic blues number to one resembling a Tin Pan Alley tune. 

“Young Lovers” becomes gentle, playful fun, while “You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed” is another track that just gets elevated by the gorgeous playing of Grabowski.  “Winter Coat” is one of the few songs that originally had a piano on it, but in this stripped-down setting, the lyrics are pushed to the forefront. 

In addition to all of these original Kelly compositions, he does tackle “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” the old Cole Porter song, which has been done from everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Carly Simon.  

For those wanting even more Paul Kelly – he’s also just issued Forty Days, a collection of stripped numbers done with just voice and guitar while in quarantine.

Paul Kelly has been making music for over four decades – yet he never seems happy to rest on his laurels or past successes.  Please Leave Your Light On is another example of the artist stretching out and delivering a fantastic album.  In a time of great turmoil, this collection of songs offer not only comfort, but hope that we’ll all get out of this in one piece.  —Tony Peters