Aussie heavyweight songster Paul Kelly returns, guitar in hand, with his 19th album Spring And Fall. After a five-year break, time has afforded the acclaimed Australia’s Bob Dylan the chance to take stock, and bring something refreshing to the – these days all too dispensable – album format.
Spring And Fall tells the tale of the once exciting, now wilted love, through a Neil Finn-esque musical lens. Approached with modest means, Kelly recorded in a country hall, employing only guitar, bass, drums, violin and a didgeridoo. The story of love and loss is dealt with humility and restraint, reviving his ‘If I Could Start Today Again’ sound to truly come into his vintage.
Curtailing his previously rocky, produced sound, Kelly’s soft cadences soar on this record, whilst splices of tuneful instrumental passages keep our interest and humour our ears. Offering us his hand, Kelly leads us into the bright’n’breezy opening number, New Found Year. He invites us to revel in his “new found land,” his “India” and “America,” depicting the plantation of seeds of love with an oh-so catchy refrain.
From here on, the ‘song cycle’ takes us from ‘spring’ to ‘fall,’ from the rise, to demise of love. Springtime soon becomes autumn, as love’s harvest is reaped: Kelly and his guitar whisper of that feeling When A Woman Loves A Man. But Kelly is by no means limp; Stronger Than The Sun reaffirms the power of his vocals, and sits as a pleasant contrast to softer tracks. The album has a notable fluidity to it. Once again the tempo is revived in the tap along, steady off beats of For The Ages, which speaks of the sweet blossoming of romance. His lover “beauty sits and reclines”, as does the listener by this point, as Kelly’s pithy guitar is met with melodic embellishments from lead guitarist Dan Kelly.
Jiving along nicely into the fifth song, Kelly’s firm moralistic declaration that he’s going to be Good From Now On’and remain faithful puts him firmly in the musical and lyrical driving seat. But ultimately it’s the intimacy of his narrative that envelops us. Swirling guitars take us into a darker musical space; the momentum of the first half loses pace, when love’s excitement begins to subside. Unsettled twangy guitars match Kelly’s insatiability: “I just want to sleep with someone else, touch some different skin”. Drama builds as the instrumentation takes off, furnishing sophisticated string arrangements to the otherwise guitar-heavy album.
Kelly’s ambitious creation, however, is not without weaknesses; the didgeridoo enthused Sometimes My Baby and dull-ish Cold As Canada pass by, leaving little impression. Nevertheless, it is the sum of parts which ultimately displays Kelly’s mastery, and the album redeems itself with standout track I’m On Your Side. Kelly’s tastefully simple composition and exploration of love in pieces such as this is what anchors the album. Affirming, through a beautiful descending three-chord progression, reverberated guitars and subtle piano riffs, that he will be there “when darkness falls” bathes us in a pool of emotion.
But just as hope appears, we’re propelled into his angriest track, None Of Your Business Now. Kelly by this point sounds almost worn out, huffing and puffing an embittered “so long,” within a charged folksy style. But thankfully, we are not given a bitter end, instead a frank admission of the “Little aches and pains” that tug from time to time: “I’m going okay/ Can’t complain.” His intonation is strikingly sincere, as if reading from a letter: ‘Thanks for your letters/ and your kinds words of comfort.” Initially drenched in ecstasy and concluding with bittersweet stoicism, life flows very well in this album.
Mystique remains whether the album is a result of Kelly’s innate talent to observe with pinprick precision, or the corollary of his own skewed vision of love. Kelly displays the art of simplicity, understatement and musical minimalism. Through the lightness of musical and lyrical touch, and effective instrumentation, he somehow manages to avoid clichés. Rather than make-up/break-up album, this here is a glacial evolution of sentiment, reflective of his maturity of mind and songwriting.