Paul Kelly | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, known best (if at all) in this country for his late-80s work with the Messengers, largely avoids depicting the extraordinary in his narratives, character sketches, and moral instructions. Instead he focuses on everyday events and situations: the reappearance of old lovers, the joys of successful partnership and really good sex, clandestine relationships, and especially the way men undo themselves with the bottle, women, or both. Talk-singing in a dry, slightly froggy voice, Kelly supplies telling details ("You're wearing shades, your hair is red, it used to be light brown"), unconventional twists ("Seven children have I raised / I loved some more than others"), and artful metaphors ("Then the word on the wire / Would be just like Ash Wednesday brushfire"). With the Messengers, he matched the wry humor and quiet sympathy of his lyrics with down-to-earth music: rough-hewn folk-pop ballads and fiery Aussie pub rock with flashes of R & B, gospel, and reggae. Unfortunately, Kelly disbanded the Messengers and moved to Los Angeles prior to making his new record, Wanted Man, and his stay in the land of artifice seems to have impaired his vision. Songs like "Maybe This Time for Sure" and the insipid radio airplay gambit "Love Never Runs on Time" are smooth, bright studio productions full of romantic sentimentality. Even so, Kelly manages to produce songs of lovely grace ("Summer Rain"), knowing admonishment ("You're Still Picking the Same Sore"), and jubilant carnality ("We've Started a Fire"). While one misses the Messengers, performing solo should force Kelly to draw on his music's core realism. Wednesday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jacqueline Mitelman.

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