Paul Kelly & the Stormwater Boys / Paul Kelly

Foggy Highway

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Until Kasey Chambers became a critical favorite with a growing fan following in the United States, most Americans probably weren't even aware that there was a country music scene in Australia, let alone that the sound of classic bluegrass and C&W was a key influence on one of the nation's best respected singer/songwriters. But while Paul Kelly is best known in the States for his splendid pop/rock albums of the 1980s and '90s, in 1999 he cut a fine country-flavored acoustic album under the name Uncle Bill, and in 2005 he's teamed up with a great band of Aussie bluegrass pickers for Foggy Highway, a solid collection of high-lonesome songs that blend Kelly's tough but literate wordplay with spare and resonant arrangements. The troubling childhood memories of "They Thought I Was Asleep," the ladies' man's rueful recollections of "Song of the Old Rake," the gospel-flavored "Meet Me in the Middle of the Air," and the drifter's lament of the title cut demonstrate that Kelly takes to the sound and feel of classic bluegrass like a duck to water, and if the occasional presence of electric guitar might put off a few purists, Kelly's duet with Kasey Chambers on the Louvin Brothers' chestnut "You're Learning" should be enough to make a believer out of anyone. And while most American fans lost track of Kelly in the mid-'90s, the 11 originals on this set prove his songwriting chops are still in superb shape, and the simplicity of these settings gives his lyrics all the more room to shine. Foggy Highway is a welcome stylistic detour from a man of many talents who deserves a much higher profile in the Western Hemisphere.

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