Paul Kelly – Life Is Fine (EMI)
Paul Kelly is an icon of the Australian music scene. Like Bob Dylan, he straddles folk, rock and country with ease and grace. I first remember hearing Paul Kelly and the Messengers song Before Too Long, a catchy three-minute gem and quickly coming to appreciate his quiet genius. That being said, he has survived an avalanche of change in a music landscape, nowadays ruled by the Taylor Swifts and Ed Sheerans of the world, to release Life Is Fine. Interestingly, last week his new album debuted in top spot on the Australian Record Industry Association charts, edging out Ed Sheeran’s Divide from the No.1 position.
Life is Fine (his 23rd album) provides another strong platform to what is already an illustrious career for Paul Kelly. It contains some of his finest songs in recent years which include Fire and Candles, Rising Moon and Josephina. There is a very slight departure to some of the sounds that made him famous, but the guest vocals of Vika and Linda Bull, on two of his tracks on the album, is a clever nod that brings back fans to some of the familiarity of his work. Most of the hallmarks of his sound that were groundbreaking in the 80s are still there, especially the twang of his guitar and his knack for writing about the mundane images and nature of life and places. In short, Paul Kelly seems to be mischievously enjoying a nice little renaissance here, showing a younger generation that this old dog still has plenty of new tricks.
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains (Matador)
Do I like to dance? This is a question you need to ask yourself before considering playing this next album. Villains is an album I didn’t expect to hear from rock veteran Queens of the Stone Age. It is a collaboration with celebrated producer Mark Ronson and it will turn heads, maybe even upset some of the faithful. Josh Homme it seems is always looking to shake things up and mess with people’s heads, so to hear the opening track Feet Don’t Fail Me kick off proceedings, with its ridiculously infectious main guitar riff and undercurrents of synth sounds, makes it one of their most unexpected niftiest songs ever. Layered in synth textures cleverly disguised by Ronson, with those punishing screeching guitars, we have come to expect from QOTSA, Villains is the equivalent of a modern rock album trapped between two universes. One that wants to be faithful to everything great about alternative rock and the other embracing pop-friendly sounds, a sort of disobedient spirit of music a younger audience wants to hear. That is why this album works so well. From the Way You Used To Do to The Evil Has Landed, I honestly can’t find one thing I don’t like about it. Okay, maybe one thing, it only has nine tracks and could have been one or two tracks longer.
Iron and Wine – Beast Epic (Sub Pop)
I first discovered Sam Bean back in 2007 and for a while drifted back and forth revisiting some of Iron & Wine releases over the years. I can’t say I am a big fan but when I was asked to listen to Iron & Wine sixth album Beast Epic, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do so. Emerging from a four-year hiatus, Sam Beam returns to Iron & Wine, as if he had never disappeared. Eleven new rich tracks on Beast Epic looks back on adulthood and evoke plenty of emotions, especially feelings of sadness. For the record, Beam’s 2007 single Boy With A Coin is still one of my favourite tracks, but Call It Dreaming, Our Light Miles and Summer Clouds from his new album are equally delightful. The echoes of his acoustic guitar still ring in my ears as I write and his songwriting is still as good as anything currently out there in folk rock circles. I must admit listening to Sam Beam’s calm soothing vocals still put me at ease. Makes me wonder why I stopped listening to his records years ago. I am certainly glad I was encouraged to revisit this modern day singer songwriting genius.
Sarah McLeod – Rocky’s Diner (Kobalt)
Though Sarah McLeod is now firmly entrenched in her home state of South Australia as a rock n roll legend, the Superjesus-singer-turned-solo-rocker still has plenty to offer by way of original material. She spent three months in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, writing new songs for her album Rocky’s Diner with the utmost care, which for a music veteran like McLeod, was all part of her exciting new philosophy to life and music. Every word and line in Rocky’s Diner has meaning, characterized by her reflection or deep thought of nostalgia, love and loss and people. That said, the album is an admirable accomplishment in its ability to convey her message, disguised it seems in her love for classic rock and soul. As she croons the opening track, Rocky’s Reprise and the albums end track, Rocky’s Diner, both songs in effect bookend an album that elbs and flows between various styles that truly suit her raspy, often heady sound.
As a self-confessed Superjesus fan, anything McLeod does outside of her duties as her band’s frontwoman, is of interest. She hasn’t always hit the mark with her material and despite some notable music publications lukewarm responses to this album, I believe both fans and newcomers will appreciate the ‘radical change of creative gears’ orchestrated by McLeod. With a real knack of speaking from the heart, songs like the anthemic sounding Giants, the surprisingly sultry Bad Valentine, Black Sheep and the beautiful Wild Hearts are all worth poring over.
Photo Credit: The header image is a collage of all four albums that I have reviewed above. They are courtesy of EMI, Matador, Sub Pop and Kobalt. I make use of them under the rationale of fair use because no free equivalent seems to exist and they serve as the primary means of visual identification at the top of my article dedicated to the reviews in question. I am not the uploader of the You Tube clip embedded here.