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Paul Kelly

The A to Z Recordings (Gawd Aggie)

Reviewed by Jim Caligiuri, Fri., July 27, 2012

Phases & Stages

Paul Kelly

The A to Z Recordings (Gawd Aggie)

The ultimate career retrospective, The A to Z Recordings are just part of Paul Kelly's efforts of the past few years. What began in 2004 as a four-night stand where he performed 100 of his songs in alphabetical order turned into a series of shows resulting in this 8-CD set of live recordings ending in 2010. When the Australian singer-songwriter sat down to write the liner notes for the box, it turned into a memoir more than 500 pages long, named after his tune "How To Make Gravy." In performance, the songs are accompanied by stories about where, when, or how they were written – the basis for the book – yet here only the music does the talking. It's mostly Kelly and acoustic guitars for 105 songs, yet it never gets boring, such is his ability with a lyric, melody, and a variety of genres – rock, country, folk, even Celtic. Some might recognize "Dumb Things," an American radio "hit," or the two songs that Austin's Kelly Willis recorded early in her career ("Cradle of Love," "Hidden Things"), but there's at least one moment on each disc that's jaw-dropping either in its profound simplicity or unremitting thoughtfulness. The beauty of "Anastasia Changes Her Mind," the rage contained in "Every Fucking City," and the warmth of "When I First Met Your Ma" all speak to the universal spirit in ways that few songwriters manage, much less succeed. In Australia, Kelly is beloved on the same level as Bruce Springsteen here in the U.S., so if eight discs of acoustic renditions of his songs seem like overkill to the uninitiated, rest assured it's not. Rather, these A to Z Recordings are the mother lode.

****.5

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