Paul Kelly – Presents the Merri Soul Sessions (Gawd Aggie) review
The first great soul album of the year comes from an unlikely place – Australia
Paul Kelly would certainly be more of a household name in the States were it not for the fact that he resides on the other side of the world in Australia. He’s been riding a wave of career peak after peak, and this latest endeavor is no exception.
The project started innocently enough – he heard singer Vika Bull doing one of his old songs, “Sweet Guy,” in concert – it was the show-stopper that evening. He decided he wanted to capture this on tape. But, it didn’t make sense to assemble everyone just for one song. That’s where the Merri Soul Sessions came into reality – assemble some of the finest singers in Australia and have them come sing with a great live band on an album of gritty R&B and soul.
What makes this album such a great listen is the depth of these performances – with six different vocalists, there’s so much territory covered. The disc opens with the moody “Smells Like Rain,” featuring Linda Bull singing over a gentle groove. Sister Vika Bull handles the sexual tension in “What You Want,” while the backup singers echo the chorus. The powerhouse Clairy Browne, who had a killer single in 2014 with “Love Letter,” knocks it out of the park with “Keep on Coming Back For More.” She sings with a fury that very few vocalists can muster.
You can see why Kelly wanted to re-record “Sweet Guy” – Vika turns in a fiery performance over a jangly, Tom Petty-inspired backing. Then, the guys take a turn – with Kelly handling the vocals on the percussive “Righteous Woman,” while Dan Sultan lends his warm, resonating voice to “Don’t Let a Good Thing Go,” which sounds like a great lost Style Council outtake.
Clairy Browne shows off a completely different, vulnerable side on “Where Were You When I Needed You.” Returning to the precipitation motif for the album closer, “Hasn’t It Rained” is a rousing Gospel number, which features sisters Vika & Linda along with Kelly.
In the end, what holds everything together is the great musicianship. It’s obvious that this music was recorded live – you just can’t fake this sort of thing. Face it – that’s the way so many great soul records of the past were recorded – and that’s what makes the Merri Soul Sessions such a delight. —Tony Peters