Paul Kelly — “Life Is Fine”

Despite a long and storied career in music, Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly claims that songwriting is a mystery to him and his prowess in the craft is that of a beginner.

Thank God for the humble.

Depending on who you talk to, Kelly’s actual talent level lies somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and John Prine — hardly a field of beginners.

With the release of  his new album, “Life Is Fine,” Kelly shows that he’s still a songwriting force to be reckoned with — confidence or not.

Clocking in at 41 minutes with its 12 songs, the album is roller coaster of sound, racing from the rock leanings of “Rising Moon,” and “Firewood and Candles” to the sultry jazz nuances of “My Man’s Got A Cold,” complete with guest vocalist Vika Bull of Viki and Linda fame.

Speaking of Linda, the younger Bull gets her chance to shine on the album as well, handling the lead vocal duties on “Don’t Explain,” a wonderfully simple, strum-heavy tune that would make even Stevie Nicks proud.

“Leah: The Sequel” is fine, light-hearted R&B tune, and “Finally Something Good” is a hip-swaying jingle in its positive, upbeat tone.

That’s not to say “Life Is Fine” is not without its shortcomings. “I Smell Trouble” begins with a lone piano playing a short repeating melody that takes the listener down a melancholy road of anticipation of the arrival of something larger and foreboding. The sudden addition of drums and guitars, while not enough of a distraction to derail the piece’s mood entirely, leaves the listener wondering what could have been. Sometimes less is indeed more. Follow-up “Petrichor,” while an interesting song lyrically with its self-examination of the human struggle in understanding the difference between wants and needs, doesn’t offer the same emotional depth sonically.

Kelly closes the record with the title track, lyrically borrowing, “If that water hadn’t been so cold I might have sunk and died” from American poet Langston Hughes. Unlike the opening, up-tempo arrangements, Kelly chooses to finish with a bare bones folk song. In the context of keeping listeners on their toes, it works.

Kelly has stated in recent interviews that he was nervous about naming the album “Life Is Fine,” because, for some, it is anything but. However, he found solace in the name in looking at life as a fine thread of not knowing what will happen — ever.

If “Life Is Fine” is given a chance, listeners will notice that very theme running throughout the finished product. Yes, “Life Is Fine” may be slightly disjointed at times, but it by no means is a lesser piece of work than Kelly’s other offerings. There is something to be said of the positive aspects of mystique and the thrill of the unexpected, something that is sorely missing in this age of instant gratification. But fear not Kelly fans, “Life Is Fine” is — for lack of a better term — positively fine.

Paul Kelly
Life Is Fine
Gawd Aggie/Cooking Vinyl America

★★★★☆

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