The Merri Soul Sessions
by David Chiu
On The Merri Soul Sessions, veteran Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly steps back from the microphone for a majority of the album and invites some special guests to take over the lead vocals for his latest batch of songs. The result is a homespun yet stirring collaborative work that recalls the best of lo-fi ’60s rootsy pop and R&B. American listeners probably never heard of singers Clairy Browne, Linda and Vika Bull, Dan Sultan or Kira Puru, but when they listen to their performances on the record, they’ll never forget them—they’re that good. Linda Bull delivers some gritty singing on the opening track, the dark and melancholy “Smells Like Rain”; her sister Vika equally delivers on the dramatic “Sweet Guy,” whose subject matter deals with a dysfunctional relationship; and Clary Browne delivers a very feverish and sexy performance of “Keep Coming Back For More.” In contrast, Sultan sings a tenderhearted love song in the form of the very soulful “Don’t Let a Good Thing Go”; and Puru in her performance conveys that feeling of helplessness in the somber “I Don’t Know What I Do.” Not that Kelly’s vocal contributions are absent on the record– he sings on the tense, roots-laden pop of “Righteous Woman,” supposedly about a showgirl and a stalker; as well as the very romantic and country-influenced “Thank You,” a very sweet song that should be a Valentine’s Day staple. Closing out the record is a duet between him and the Bull sisters on the very buoyant and fervent “Hasn’t It Rained” (whether it was intentional or not, the word rain is referenced in a few of the tracks). Aside from the different great voices that grace the record (check out the lovely harmony singing by the Bull sisters on “Down on the Jetty”), certainly the common thread all the songs share is Kelly’s ability to capture the range of emotions from the dark to the light; for newcomers, he’s a gifted songwriter. With its aforementioned performances, sense of song craft, and respect to the musical traditions of past, The Merri Soul Sessions sounded like it made as a labor of love. And it shows.