January 24, 1996
Paul Kelly, Deeper Water (Vanguard 1995) - Vanguard Records (a division of the Welk Music Group Company) seeks artists in the roots-rock vein. And Australian Paul Kelly fits the bill precisely. For the 12 tracks on Deeper Water, Kelly looks both within and without to create a moody, haunting piece.
The black-and-white cover photo is one of the most subtly seductive pictures I've seen in a long time. Featuring the backside of a man (presumably Kelly) with a woman's hands passionately wrapped around his head, the cover shot alone is worth the price of the album.
Now age 40, Kelly began his career in Melbourne, Australia in 1976. After recording several albums in an Elvis Costello/Gram Parker style, Kelly moved to Sydney and formed his terrific band, the Messengers. With the Messengers, Kelly achieved stateside popularity with such releases as Gossip (1987).
A mainstay in the Australian music scene, Kelly also lived in Los Angeles for a time. His songs have been recorded by such country-oriented U.S. artists as Butch Hancock, Jimmy Dale Gilmore, and Kelly Willis.
In mid-1994, Kelly recruited several players from Melbourne, including drummer Pete Luscombe, bassist Stephen Hadley, keyboardist Bruce Haymes, and pedal steel guitar player Graham Lee, for a three-month Australian tour.
At the end of the tour, the group entered Platinum Studios in Melbourne and cut eight songs. Kelly and band returned to a local pub in Melbourne last spring, where they refined the rest of the disc.
While the album includes some jaunty numbers, such as "Extra Mile" and "Anastasia Changes Her Mind," Kelly often delves into a more subdued, folk-rock feeling on tracks such as "Deeper Water" and "Difficult Woman" (an insightful number about "a difficult woman [who] makes it hard for the ones she loves").
The album has an over-produced feel; not bloated, just as if too many cooks spent too much time getting the mix down. With a lighter touch, Deeper Water would bounce along better.
Kelly has a bit of Bob Geldof in him; he wants to find the Big Answers. Unfortunately, Kelly isn't the wordsmith that Geldof is, and his songs aren't as pop-driven. With the right production assistance, Kelly could have a big breakthrough.
Best of the Beautiful South (Mercury 1995) - Since their founding in 1989, The Beautiful South have become big stars in the United Kingdom, and produced a steady stream of European hits. With their mix of pop, blue-eyed soul, and gentle sensibilities, the band should have enjoyed the same U.S. success as 10,000 Maniacs. Instead, they remained on the alternative fringe.
Best of the Beautiful South gives the band a new chance in the States. Featuring a dozen of their finest cuts, together with several little-known B-sides, Best of the Beautiful South is one of the fastest-selling albums in British history, and has already sold over 3 million copies in Europe.
The Beautiful South embraces a classic British pop sound, but never compromises their vision. With gentle, touching melodies, smooth inter-weaving of voices, and brave and biting lyrics, The Beautiful South is pop music with fangs.
The Beautiful South arose from the ashes of The Housemartins in 1989 when singer/songwriter Paul Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway teamed with Sean Welch on bass, drummer David Stead, and guitarist/songwriter Dave Rotheray.
While the band's four studio releases are built around Heaton's solid, soul-drenched voice, Heaton willingly shares lead vocals with Dave Hemingway and female singers Briana Corrigan (who subsequently left the band) and Jacqueline Abbott to produce a sound that is never static and always intelligent.
From tracks like "Song for Whoever" (a massive British hit in 1989) through such lovely cuts as "We are Each Other" and "36D," Best of proves that The Beautiful South have been wrongfully overlooked in the United States.
In fact, the band was inexplicably dumped by Elektra Records after the release of 1992's terrific 0898. Since then, its releases (including 1994's Miaow) have only been available on import.
The Beautiful South deserves a new listening, especially with the current success of such British pop acts as Oasis, Blur, and Elastica. Don't overlook this band.
Blind Pig Sampler - Prime Chops, Vol. III (Blind Pig Records 1995) - Blind Pig Records, out of the Bay Area, consistently delivers smokin' West Coast blues. For Prime Chops, Vol. III, Blind Pig gathered tracks from 19 of its artists for a mouth-watering, 75-minute blues and roots sampler.
Blind Pig's stars range from traditional blues artists such as Roy Rogers & Norton Buffalo ("Your's Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond") and Charlie Musselwhite ("Pistol in Your Face") to zydeco blues-influenced Chubby Carrier ("Turn on Your Love Light") through such contemporary favorites as Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s ("Shakin' the Shack") and Coco Montoya ("Gotta Mind to Travel").
Also featured are cuts from Studebaker John & the Hawks, Luther Allison, and the soul-influenced Gospel Hummingbirds.
All told, Prime Chops, Vol. III is a great introduction to Blind Pig Records and its stable of blues stars. Check out the return of this ever-popular sampler series.
-- Randy Krbechek
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