Review: Paul Kelly “Nature”

Fresh off his first ARIA No. 1 album, “Life Is Fine,” just over a year ago, Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly is back with a new album, “Nature,” a collection of songs written over, in and around multiple recording sessions during the years, but somehow never made the final cut.

Fortunately, these gems containing more of Kelly’s brand of homespun, poetic lyricism and transfixing musical accompaniments have lived just long enough to finally see the light of day.

Kelly’s eclectic side is brandished once again in the tracks with his inspiring use of poems from literary giants such as Walt Whitman, Philip Larkin and Sylvia Plath, among others. The results are pure Kelly. 

The Bob Dylan-esque, eerie vocal stylings set to the poetic artistry of another Dylan — poet Dylan Tomas — in the opener, “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” set the tone for what is to come.

Kelly ratchets things up a notch with the driving and up-tempo “With The One I Love,” an almost feel-good tune despite its lyrical “be-damned” content. Kelly takes the wheel and provides an energy and fortitude in the message that it damn near puts a smile on one’s face, as do “Bound To Follow” and the simple shuffle of “The Trees,” with their smooth and relaxing musical hues.

Not one to take the easy way home, Kelly inserts the story of outspoken Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins into the mix with “A Bastard Like Me,” a short and succinct 2-minute and 34-second portrayal of a man deemed a “mongrel, a stray, a dog,” who “fought all the way, every day.” Kelly actually flexes his songwriting muscle by refraining from turning the song into a 5-minute-plus opus that so many songwriters would likely do with a subject matter as such. Short, sweet and to the point.

The silky-smooth elements of tracks such as “With Animals” and “The Trees” are due in large part to the inclusion of female backing and harmony vocals from daughters Madeleine and Memphis Kelly, Vika and Linda Bull, Alice Keath and Kate Miller-Heidke, a creative technique Kelly has employed with success in the past as well. The female voices are the perfect feathers to his stone, the velvet to his grit.

“Seagulls of Seattle” and “Mushrooms” (with lyrics courtesy of Plath) reside in the folk registers that Kelly has become renowned for, but are far from redundant carbon copies of Travis-style picking patterns. With Kelly, you expect great storytelling painted on a musically folk-leaning canvas. And that is exactly what you get.

“Nature,” like its predecessor, “Life Is Fine,” is a gift that keeps on giving. The album gives credence to the saying that “good things in life only get better with age.” It’s hard to fathom that the 64-year-old Kelly has yet to reach his artistic peak, but following these bookend stellar releases, it’s readily apparent that the songsmith has plenty of gas left in the tank.

As for Act III? We can’t wait.

“Nature” Tracklist
And Death Shall Have No Dominion
With The One I Love 
A Bastard Like Me (For Charlie Perkins)
Little Wolf
With Animals
Bound to Follow (Aisling Song)
Seagulls of Seattle
Morning Storm
The River Song
God’s Grandeur
The Trees