Review: Paul Kelly Delves into the Ways of Water

Paul Kelly/Rivers and Rain/Gawd Aggie/coking Vinyl
4.5 Out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Rightfully heralded as one of Australia’s preeminent singer/songwriters, Paul Kelly looks back at his career with a digital compilation that focuses for the most part on his fascination with water and the emotional connection that thrives on the transformative powers of nature’s nourishment. Both literate and prolific, his knowing stance is never bereft of emotion and conviction, and it’s that remarkable combination that has always made his music consistently compelling. 

Kelly’s career spans five decades and was previously compiled in the expansive eight-disc retrospective, The A-Z Recordings, which, as its title suggests, included every Kelly recording up until the time of its release. Having done that, the next logical move might have been to release a greatest hits, but trying to skim a limited number of songs from a catalog that includes a wealth of exceptional entries would be an unenviable task. Consequently, Kelly has wisely chosen a thematic approach, the first of what promises to be several similar compilations with varying themes.

To be clear, Rivers and Rain isn’t necessarily an ideal introduction for the uninitiated. While there are excellent examples of Kelly’s song craft included in this collection, as a best-of, it’s far from all-inclusive. Yet it does include some of his more important seminal songs—a folk-rock take on Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty,” a perennial favorite, “Everything’s Turning To White” and, in keeping with its aquatic theme, a subdued take on “Moon River,” a duet with Neil Finn recorded live in concert. Other offerings convey the concept to an even greater degree, with the sequence of songs that include “Morning Storm,” “Smells Like Rain” and “Summer Rain’ providing a vivid series of soundscapes. As always, Kelly’s ability to create intimate audio encounters through a deft ability to balance tone and texture remains consistent throughout. 

While Kelly’s admirers will likely appreciate the opportunity to delve into some deeper cuts—indeed, most of the material is sourced from sources other than his official albums—the one disappointment is that of the 21 tracks, only one is unreleased, a 2021 recording titled, appropriately enough, “Northern Rivers.”  It’s a good song, of course, but only one of several magical moments the album offers overall. At the same time, it makes one all the more anxious to hear more new music from this exceptional artist. Hopefully, Rivers and Rain suggests Kelly’s musical flow will continue well into the future. 

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