Album review: "Greatest Hits: Songs From the South, Volumes 1 &2"
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, Mar. 9, 2012
Has there ever been a better song than Paul Kelly's "How to Make Gravy"?
It's not a recipe set to music but a letter from a prisoner to his brother at Christmas. Over an ear-grabbing, mid-tempo guitar riff, the narrator begins with warm holiday wishes and, yes, the recipe, but is soon overwhelmed by regret, jealousy and paranoia. In four minutes, the Aussie singer-songwriter touches on more emotions and penetrates them more deeply than many artists manage in an entire career.
It could have come only from Kelly, one of the English language's greatest songwriters, even if most Americans have never heard of him. He's a fairly big star at home, where for the past 38 years he has set his razor-sharp lyrics to garage-rock, folk-rock, R&B, bluegrass and soundtracks. "Greatest Hits: Songs From the South, Volumes 1 & 2" is a two-disc collection of 40 of Kelly's best songs from 1985 to 2008, and every tune should be a welcome revelation to the uninitiated.
If there is a better song than "How to Make Gravy," it may well be Kelly's "Deeper Water." It begins, over a chiming pop guitar riff, with the story of a child gathering courage to wade into the waves. A grinding Velvet Underground riff closes off childhood and follows the boy into adolescent lust, marriage, parenthood and a spouse's death, each step as seductive and as terrifying as the swelling music behind him.