Ways & Means

Paul Kelly

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Ways & Means Review

by Hal Horowitz

Don't be mislead by the Ennio Morricone spaghetti Western soundtrack-styled instrumental that starts Aussie singer/songwriter Paul Kelly's 13th disc. His first release since 2001's Nothing but a Dream is a 21-track double set that is otherwise similar to his previous albums and finds Kelly working to his compositional strengths. That's not to slight his canny ability to portray distinctive characters within the context of a four-minute pop song, or how he mines his seemingly bottomless well of melodies. But those who are already fans will find this a familiar yet enjoyable collection of quality songs, sung with Kelly's slightly nasal everyman voice and played with clean, precise, and rugged professionalism by his sturdy band. Disc one boasts the more direct, upbeat tunes, while the second is moody and more sedate. As usual with double albums, these could have been combined into a phenomenal single, but the differing sounds make a strong case for the expanded package. In fact, disc two's laconic approach is best digested whole, with the melodies intertwining to produce an affecting portrait of Kelly's mellower side. The first platter's rockers such as the Tom Petty-ish "Won't You Come Around" sport some of his most memorable choruses. "Cryin' Shame" is an unusually dirty, swampy riff-based blues rocker that sounds like it was recorded in Mississippi with the Fat Possum crew. But "These Are the Days" is classic Kelly, a ringing mid-tempo ballad with touching, detailed lyrics about approaching middle age and looking for commitment, sung with a perfect balance of pathos and detachment. Other than a few twists, he's not radically expanding his net. But with songs as well-written, superbly played, and inviting as these, Kelly shows no signs of slowing down either. Fans will be thrilled with this expansive album, but even newcomers could start here and work backward through Kelly's extensive and consistently impressive catalog.

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