At a recent New York club date, the Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly opened with a song about the end of things, "You Can't Take It With You" — from a 1989 album with his old band the Messengers — then showed how far he is from done with a long set of true grit and cutting humor, mixing vintage gems like "Dumb Things" and the all-season Christmas lesson "How to Make Gravy" with highlights from the superb new Stolen Apples (Capitol Australia), due out here soon. Onstage, with his nephew Dan on guitar, Kelly was wry and tender in "You're 39, You're Beautiful and You're Mine," then perfectly dark — part recent grizzled Bob Dylan, part avenging Prince — in "Right Outta My Head," a song about mending a broken heart with angry serial sex. (The opening line: "I'm gonna fuck her right outta my head.") Kelly also writes about his native land the way the Band charted antique America — mapping the emotional as well as physical terrains. "The Ballad of Queenie and Rover," on the new record, is based on two real-life Australian painters, a tale of art and dreams told by Kelly with detailed geography and precise affection. But there are few other songwriters on any continent sharp enough to pull off the street-lingo rewrite of the Garden of Eden story in the album's title track: "So Adam bit and cried out, 'That's the bomb! That's the bomb!'/Stolen apples taste the sweetest." So they do.
Fricke's Picks: Paul Kelly
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