Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly's Greatest Hits: Songs from the South, Vols. 1-2

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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz

It's unrealistic to think that after releasing consistently terrific albums from 1985-2007-- the years covered on this expansive double-disc, 40-song compilation -- non-Australians will finally discover singer/songwriter Paul Kelly. For those unfamiliar with his abilities as not only a savvy wordsmith and story teller, but an unusually gifted melody writer and compelling vocalist, this two-and-half-hour set will be a revelation. His folk-rock approach is somewhat like a combination of Tom Petty and Crowded House with lyrical descriptions of working-class folks worthy of Dave Alvin. There are some hints of Dylan in his style, too, but Kelly takes all of these influences and adds other distinctive twists (old-school punk, for example, on the rollicking "Nothing on My Mind") to yield eclectic music that's tied to a rootsy, guitar-based sound which is familiar but never derivative. Although deservedly a major star in his native Australia, Kelly never got the breaks from his labels in the States, in particular A&M and Vanguard, which would put him in front of an audience who could best appreciate his substantial musical charms. This set gets a belated U.S. release, three years after it was available in other parts of the world. But with his timeless style, there is nothing dated about even its oldest tracks. Kelly can turn a tale as powerfully as any of his influences, as he proves on "How to Make Gravy," a touching, emotionally riveting letter from a man in jail to his family on his first Christmas while incarcerated. Only some of the cricket-playing songs about stars who play that sport don't really connect, but with 38 other tunes to choose from, roots folk-rock fans will find handfuls of gems here they will return to often. Kelly's music has always been recorded well, but remastering makes them jump out with a clarity that brings fresh appreciation for his abilities as an arranger. Chiming guitars, keyboards, and supportive but never intrusive drumming intertwine effortlessly and effectively to bring out the best in his songwriting. Disc two is more acoustic-oriented, but Kelly still cuts loose on the driving "God Told Me To" and the ominous "Thoughts in the Middle of the Night." When he hits the sweet spot on ballads such as the lovely "You're 39, You're Beautiful and You're Mine," he has few equals. He's a class act, as these 40 selections indisputably prove, and here's hoping he continues this impressive streak for another few decades, only with many more fans.

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