The Rosary and the House of Jade

Jeff Kelly

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The Rosary and the House of Jade Review

by Richie Unterberger

Kelly only produced 50 cassettes of this album, which he gave to friends at Christmas 1997. It could thus be considered an unreleased recording, but merits a separate entry in a discography, as it was included in its entirety as one of the four CDs in the box set Melancholy Sun (which also includes three prior Kelly albums that were also originally released only on cassette). The Rosary and the House of Jade is a concept album of sorts, apparently based around a romance with a spy in England, although the specific storyline is vague (as is the case in so many concept albums, past and present). The conceptual spy-story elements come mostly into play on the opening "The Lady Is a Spy," with its jazzy, spy-movie-like backing, periodic interludes, and a reprise of the spy motif. But in fact most of the record is the sort of beguiling, cultish pop-folk-rock that Kelly's fans have come to know and love from his cassette-only releases. The women in Kelly's songs have been so complex, troubled, and mystically portrayed that framing the album as songs about a spy makes sense, and the individual tracks can work either as part of the loose "spy" concept or as quirky romantic songs that work outside of that context. The production is not as sparse as it was on his 1980s cassettes, but on the other hand, it's not as inappropriately full as it was on some of 1992's Private Electrical Storm. Thus it strikes a pretty good balance between the nearly unplugged ambience of his early work and fuller, more elaborately produced arrangements. [To date, the album is only available as one of the aforementioned CDs in the Melancholy Sun box set.]