Paul Kelly Greatest Hits Album Is a Must Listen

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Paul Kelly | Greatest Hits – Songs from the South 1985-2019 | (Cooking Vinyl)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Those unaware of Paul Kelly’s remarkable body of music could consider this particular Greatest Hits a concise kind of catch up. After all, with 43 songs provided on a packed double disc, there’s plenty of opportunity to get into the depth and breadth of Kelly’s extensive catalog. Completists have cause to pick it up as well, given that two new songs complete the collection, and many of the older tracks are culled from various albums that aren’t easily obtained. 

Regardless, Greatest Hits is well worth acquiring by all, if for no other reason than it puts a superior set of songs all in one place. After all, Kelly boasts a reputation as one of modern music’s most profound and prolific songwriters, and by the same token, one of its most underrated as well. Rightly lauded in his native Australia, Kelly’s efforts over the course of the past 35 years, both in collaboration with his early outfits — the unfortunately dubbed The Coloured Girls and later, the Dots and the Messengers — and on his own, have reinforced his reputation as an artist who’s never been afraid to share his personal pathos and turn it into life lessons that his listeners can relate to.

Kelly’s revisited his back catalog before; aside from a best-of collection subtitled Songs from the South that traced his career through 2008, he released a box set in 2012 titled The A to Z Recordings which famously included all his songs up until that time redone acoustically in alphabetical order. A handful of those songs are included here as well. Naturally, that’s a lot to digest, and while this particular compilation offers material from his earliest origins through to the present, it too begs more than a cursory listen. The seminal songs — “From St. Kilda to King’s Cross,” “Before Too Long,” “Dumb Things,” “How To Make Gravy,” “From Little Things Big Things Grow” –are a good portion of the essential listening as is the tender, touching “When I First Met Your Mom,” a tearjerker of a love song that unequivocally ranks among the best of his very best. Sung with a kind of quiet contemplation and understated elegance, these mid tempo ballads convey everyday observations with unabashed emotion.

It’s not that Kelly is a strict sentimentalist however. The down home twang of “Our Sunshine” and the decidedly scornful “Every Fucking City” reflect the feelings of a man unafraid to venture beyond his own comfort zone or that of his audience in particular. Yet, the two new offerings in the set, “Every Day My Mother’s Voice” and “When We’re Both Old & Mad” show yet again that he hasn’t lost his ability to share everyday insights and experiences in ways that are knowing and affecting.

Thankfully then, Greatest Hits – Songs from the South 1985-2019 shows Kelly’s power of perception remains a constant throughout his career. Novices take note — a wonderful discovery awaits. Faithful fans can take heart in knowing that overdue recognition may now be within reach. 


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