Her ‘Pain’ is our pleasure
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, July 13, 2012
On her brilliant new album, “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain,” Kelly Hogan rescues the endangered art of interpretive singing from near oblivion. Like Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Nelson and Dusty Springfield before her, Hogan digs up new or obscure songs by the best contemporary songwriters, hires a seasoned R&B band and uses them all as vehicles for her voice, which is big, smoky and, above all, smart.
Her predecessors relied on such songwriters as Randy Newman, John Prine and Burt Bacharach, but Hogan looks to a new generation -- Stephin Merritt, Robbie Fulks and Jon Langford -- who prove worthy heirs. Robyn Hitchcock wrote the title track, which begins as humorous self-mockery about wallowing in despair but grows less and less funny as it progresses -- a path Hogan travels by singing in a breezy soprano that is eventually punctuated by anguished shouts.
On “We Can’t Have Nice Things,” by Andrew Bird and Jack Pendarvis, the understated quartet led by organist Booker T. Jones dials up the tension, which Hogan feeds off as her vocals hover between embarrassment and anger. “My name is Frank Sinatra,” she implausibly croons on the opening line to M. Ward’s “Daddy’s Little Girl.” But Hogan makes it work by soaking her whispery confession to Nancy Sinatra with equal doses of affection and arrogance. This project is a triumph from start to finish.