Thursday, 1 January 2015

Paul Kelly- Paul Kelly Presents The Merri Soul Sessions

Soul music has become an iconic part of the Melbourne music scene over the last decade, bands like Saskwatch with their brand of uptempo funky northern soul have gained national recognition. It's a perfect avenue for singer songwriter Paul Kelly to showcase new material and do so in a different context. The Merri Soul Sessions features four different vocalists and a steller backing band the Merri souls which features Kelly on rhythm guitar. The sessions took place in February last year at Soundpark studios on the edge of the Merri Creek which snakes through the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. The band features a whose who of local musicians who have been the backbone of the local scene for decades, Peter Luscombe on drums who has been a regular Kelly sideman, Bill McDonald on bass who is also a Kelly regular and who also played with Frente. Even guitarist Ash Naylor supplies the distinct supple fretwork, Cameron Bruce is fantastic on the keys, he has a very gritty soulful sound.

At the mic you have a four of the best vocalists in this town, the Bull sisters Vika and Linda who have been a mainstay of the music scene for close to 20 plus years, notable for their work with The Black Sorrows. Dan Sultan whose new album Blackbird propelled him into the Top 5 of the album charts, and rounding out the contingent is brilliant soul chanteuse Clairy Browne who leads the Bangin Rackettes, she has a formidable voice. What stands out about this album is that Kelly uses soul music to bring out stories with a darker hue and it works because it goes against the grain. The album was generally recorded on first takes, each song has a unique flow whether it be the vocal arrangements or the groove supplied by the band. One of the central themes of the album is rain and the way it can replenish the ground or be cleansing and redemptive for the soul.

Smells Like Rain is dark and stormy, a low grumbling bass line pointing to something ominous, it has an apocalyptic feel to it. In this case what the rain brings is not necessarily redemptive or welcoming, there is a sense of fear and uncertainty that's brewing. The song has a real Hi records groove to it, slow with a deep funk each element carefully constructed, the organ providing a haunting refrain.

Oh it's been so long
Since water kissed this ground
Everywhere is aching 
For grace to come falling down 
Now I feel a change
There's something on the wind

What You Want is sublime with Vika Bull in full throat, imploring almost begging for affection, Keep On Coming Back For More has a more ragged approach which suits Clairy Browne's impassioned vocal. Sweet Guy is a take on Kelly's classic Sweet Girl with Vika Bull handling the vocals it's a great interpretation but lacks the anxious urgency of the original. Don't Let A Good Thing Go featuring Dan Sultan is a lighter moment on the record, some nice summer time soul. Sultan is one of the best up and coming vocalists in the country, he is equally adept on songs requiring more of his full throated roar. Where Were You When I Needed You is a soul torch, a perfect vehicle for Browne who gives a great performance, restrained when required and anguished and bitter as the crescendo builds. Thank You features Kelly on vocals and is a country soul styled recognition of the long roads he has travelled and the support he has received. The album closes with the joyous gospel tinged Hasn't It Rained once again the rain brings danger not relief, that's Paul Kelly for you always going against the grain.

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