Cooking Vinyl Limited
I keep thinking this is a very prolific period for Australia’s greatest songwriter. But actually it’s just a purple patch – within a purple patch. He’s always been regular and often prolific with his output but the last decade has seen a combination of ends-tying compilations and themed-shows alongside plenty of brand new work.
By the time you read this review he’s already released 2020’s ‘proper’ album and I’ll get to that in a bit – no doubt – but I’m still rather taken with this wee curio, his quarantine recordings. Since the release of 40 Days Melbourne has entered into another lockdown but these songs and poems were offered as part of “season one” of lockdown.
Just as I was busy moaning about anyone and their dog offering up kitchen sink demos and jewellery-rattling home concerts, ZOOMED in from all angles, I heard 40 Days. A sort of campfire throwback – absolutely the product of these times and offered in that spirit, but it’s also utterly believable that Kelly might have ‘gone back’ to this style and delivery at any point in his career.
Over 40 Days – biblical – he send songs out into the work, and readings of poems. He recorded them on his phone and shared them to those that wanted a little pick-me-up. Covers. Shakespeare. The sorts of things he’s peppered through sets and albums across, well, across 40 years now.
So this mini-album is home-demo quality, it is literally the iPhone recordings that were up on YouTube mixed down to just audio. It feels like the debut album we never got to hear; the debut album that was just 45 years in the making.
Covers of John Prine and Bill Withers and Slim Dusty appeared during the days of the quarantine – poems and readings too. And now you get to hear them again, or for the first time. And it has a warmth, just as if you were there in the room, just as if you were part of a small Kelly gang sitting around a back-garden brazier.
The opener, Slim Dusty’s Pub With No Beer, is the great scene-setter.
I love Kelly’s voice for his poetry readings too – setting words just against the open space of recording where previously he’s arranged Shakespeare’s sonnets for strings and piano. But then Sonnet 73 is accompanied by an early-60s Dylanesque guitar line.
Speaking of Dylan, and he’s always there in the background when you hear or think about Paul Kelly’s work, My Island Home could have lived on one of the earliest of Dylan’s Bootleg Series recordings. This in a way is Paul Kelly’s first volume of a Bootleg Series. I hope there’s more, as these songs and poems deserve to live on without needing the reason of a forced lockdown to exist.
Grandma’s Hands is a tribute to Withers’ recent passing – as well as a rousing rendition of a spirit-warming song. And that’s loosely the overall feel – tribute, reminder of great songs, a wee attempt to raise the spirit.
I just keep returning to this wee curio. It has a warmth all of its own. It makes sense. It feels like the very best of the quarantine offerings, in that it’s all about the music and the words, nothing here suggests the performer deserves any sort of pat on the back just for giving of his time.