Paul Kelly – The A to Z Recordings (review)

Paul Kelly – The A to Z Recordings (Gawd Aggie) review

Australian songwriter Paul Kelly has taken a fresh approach to the tired idea of “career retrospective.”  An eight-disc box set might seem excessive, especially for an artist that has never had a US hit record.  Yet, Paul Kelly is no typical songwriter.  His songs, seemingly simple in their construction, manage to transport you to wide and varied locations.

The A to Z Recordings is a clever concept – originating in a series of concerts over the last few years where Kelly played 100 of his best songs over a four-night span – in alphabetical order.  Amongst the many songs are some of Kelly’s best-known – “Before Too Long,” “At Her Door,” “Dumb Things.”  There are the downright funny – “Every Fucking City,” and the poignant, in the coming-of-age “Deeper Waters.”  Kelly shows his gift as a deft storyteller in songs like “Other People’s Houses,” and “Winter Coat.”  Most performances are stripped down – mostly Kelly’s voice and acoustic guitar, sometimes joined by a second guitarist or instrumentalist.  In this setting, more emphasis is placed on Kelly’s incredible gift as a lyricist.

In the concerts from which these tracks were culled, Kelly told the stories behind each song.  Yet for this collection, he’s edited the spoken parts out, letting the music speak for itself. For those wanting more explanation, Kelly has assembled How to Make Gravy, which he describes as a “mongrel memoir,” in which he takes each song on this collection and expounds on it in written form.

You would think that after a few discs, Kelly’s songs would grow tiresome.  But, this is what truly sets him apart from just about everyone else – he’s delved into many different styles and approaches over his long career.  Sure, there are story-songs, but also protest songs, country songs, folk songs, and very simple songs.  Some have rock influence, others bluegrass, even Celtic, making this an extremely diverse collection of tunes from a singular artist.  –Tony Peters