Paul Kelly lifts the electric guitar out of the case again and unveils one of the most powerful albums of his career, Life Is Fine, released Friday August 11.
The album is preceded by rock-flavoured first single Firewood and Candles, released today, a rollicking track reminiscent of his finest ‘80s recordings, a feeling which permeates the whole album.
Kelly fires up on Life Is Fine with a band of long-time musical friends, capturing all the excitement of them playing live in the studio, and delivers a record that crackles with energy. He agrees about the comparison with those albums he made with The Messengers like Gossip and So Much Water So Close To Home.
“I was aware of that as we were making it,” Kelly says. “The guitar riff at the start of Firewood and Candles is like a Sunnyboys song. Those kind of guitar lines, nothing fancy but really strong, are like the ones Steve Connolly used to play with The Messengers. I can see a lot of parallels to those records I was making then.’’
“I knew I wanted it to be an upbeat record,” Kelly says. “We worked with Steve Schram, who engineered and co-produced. He likes to work really fast and get the performance of the band live in the studio, vocals and all at the same time. There are lots of different ways to make records but that’s the way I like to do it now.’’
The band featured on Life Is Fine is a similar cast of players to the one that made the 2014 Merri Soul Sessions album with Paul and guest singers. Vika and Linda Bull are on vocals, Ashley Naylor on guitar, Bill McDonald on bass, Cameron Bruce on keys and Peter Luscombe on drums.
“It’s a band with lots of strong opinions,’’ Kelly says. “I guess our one rule is to try every idea. By playing it you find out pretty quickly whether things are working or not.”
One of the reasons behind Kelly’s enduring power as a songwriter is his continual drive to break old habits and find new ways to refresh his creativity. The lyric for the album’s title tune and concluding track, with lines like “If that water hadn’t been so cold I might have sunk and died”, sounds exactly like something Kelly would have written. Yet it is by the American poet Langston Hughes, who died in 1967.
“At first I worried about Life Is Fine as a title because life is not fine for everyone. But I like the original meaning of fine, as in life is a fine thread. We never know what is going to happen the very next minute, or what is just around the corner.’’
Fans of one of our greatest songwriters can be sure – Life Is Fine is one of Kelly’s strongest and most evocative albums, another treasure to sit proudly on the shelf beside any of his earlier classics.