Album Review: Paul Kelly – Songs from the South (Greatest Hits)

Anyone with even a scintilla of interest in the music scene in Australia needs to know of the golden thread that runs through it in the form of Paul Kelly. He is to Australia what Bruce Springsteen is to the US, Bally Bragg to the UK: a rock’n’roll poet that holds a mirror to society, wrapped in guitar-driven fables of everyday minutiae.

This Greatest Hits collection is the perfect way to start a musical exploration of this iconic singer/songwriter – and what a pleasant introduction. For all the veracity, the earnestness and the lyrical beauty, Paul Kelly is a perfect pop song writer: stunning melodies delivering a message, a simple story or personal devotion that, whether starkly or through some sort of cultural reflection, captures an element of Australian society.

Take for example what has now become a sun-bleached Australian Christmas standard – ‘How to Make Gravy’ – a regretful tale of a prisoner missing his first Christmas, a beautiful snapshot of the mundanity of family traditions:

I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland
And Stella’s flying in from the coast
They say it’s gonna be a hundred degrees, even more maybe
But that won’t stop the roast

Who’s gonna make the gravy now?

And at his best, Kelly is a pure pop master. Witness ‘Before Too Long’:

This collection is massive: forty-three songs over two hours and as I listen I cannot but wonder at the sheer quality of songs. Switching lanes from the fuzzy rumbles of ‘Nothing on My Mind’, the heavy blues and thunder of ‘Darling It Hurts’, to sweet delicate jangly pop of ‘Look So Fine’:

There’s a little touch of country, folk meanderings, straight forward rock, all linked by Kelly’s distinctive Australian drawl and his witty incisive lyricism.

At his best, Kelly has written songs that capture the essence of Australia from a Melbourne perspective (where he settled after growing up in Adelaide). He is one of Australia’s best and most iconic songwriters and this collection encapsulates his prowess. You can get the album through all the usual sites. Kelly is on tour across Australia over the coming months – details and tickets can be found here.

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