Australian songwriter Paul Kelly breathes new life into the words of William Shakespeare on his latest project, Seven Sonnets & A Song. The release finds the prolific artist transforming sonnets courtesy of the bard into stripped-down, half-sung/half-spoken folk songs. Get an exclusive listen of Kelly’s “Sonnet 18” below.
The album, recorded over the course of 18 months, features Kelly singing lead on six Shakespearean sonnets in addition to a song from Twelfth Night. The collection’s only non-Shakespearean piece, “My True Love Hath My Heart,” is a sonnet written by Shakespeare’s contemporary Sir Philip Sidney and is sung by noted Australian vocalist Vika Bull.
“Sonnet 18” (a.k.a “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day”) opens with Kelly singing a cappella on the sonnet’s first quatrain. A self-proclaimed Shakespeare admirer, Kelly says “Sonnet 18” is the first piece he tackled while working on the release.
“The hardest part of songwriting for me is the words so it’s fun sometimes to start with other people’s words,” Kelly tells American Songwriter. “The job’s half done. I’ve been playing around with the sonnets for a couple of years now. I just stare at the words with a guitar in my hand and see what happens. I don’t start with any particular purpose but I notice my selection has a lot to do with time, aging and the idea that life is short but art is long. ‘Sonnet 18’ is the first one I put music too. It sounded like a bluegrass song to me so I asked my friend Alice Keath to play banjo on it and sing old-time harmonies. Another friend of mine, Lucy Dyson, animated the music. Her work is gorgeous and playful. The perfect fit to ‘Shall I compare thee?’”
To add to its Shakespearean factor, Seven Sonnets & A Song will see an April 23 release, the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. Check out the video for “Sonnet 18” below.