Paul Kelly’s superb 2012 album Spring and Fall may have marked some form of artistic renewal for Kelly after what seemed like a career break, and it was certainly the start of a particularly busy number of years. Since then he has released Shakespearean mini-album, Seven Sonnets & a Song (2016), band albums Life Is Fine (2017) and Nature (2018), collaborated on a soul album The Merri Soul Sessions (2014) as well as the “funeral classics” Death’s Dateless Night with Charlie Owen (2016).
2019 was definitively productive with contribution to the ornithological, Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds (2019), a new greatest hits collection, Songs from the South: 1985–2019, a live album, Live at the Sydney Opera House and a book of others’ poetry, Love is Strong as Death. He has also toured around the world at least once since 2012 and worked on projects with Courtney Barnett and Kev Carmody amongst others. In spite of (or perhaps because of) worldwide events in 2020 he released Forty Days, a collection of songs and spoken word recordings made during lockdown. There has also been a recent re-issue of nearly all of Kelly’s albums on vinyl, and the publication of Stuart Coupe’s biography, The Man, the Music and the Life In Between. To add to all this, here we have Please Leave Your Light On with Paul Grabowsky.
Grabowsky is an award-winning Australian pianist and composer of music for film, theatre and opera, and is well known for his work in jazz, most recently on Tryst (2019) with Kate Ceberano. Tryst was a reinterpretation of love songs and won best jazz album at the ARIA Music Awards in 2019 and best independent jazz album or EP at the AIR Awards in 2020, so it could be argued that there is some jumping of bandwagons to repeat the “remake” formula, this time with the reinterpretation of some of Kelly’s songs. Jazz purists may balk at the idea of refashioning popular music into an “easy listening style”, but ultimately what will count for Kelly fans is whether the album adds anything new to his catalogue as opposed to it being a mere recycling.
As his fans will know, Kelly has a significant songbook stretching back to at least the early ‘80s. Here the focus of the reinterpretations is mostly on recent material with some new material: the previously unreleased “True To You” and a cover of Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. “True To You” encapsulates the overall tone of Sinatra like melancholy on the album and after a dramatic piano intro, Kelly joins to sing over deep minor chords, emphasising the lonely nature of the lyric. The piano line provides a counterpoint to the story being told, suggesting there is another side to it all. Grabowsky’s piano solo, taken early in the song, is dark and brooding, so that when Kelly’s sweeter voice appears again the optimism to “keep on keeping on” seems like a battle. The cover of “Every Time We Say Goodbye” has a lightness of touch that enables Kelly to make good use of the warm tones of a rich voice and Grabowsky excels with an intricate and extended jazz solo.
By using more recent songs the record is kept light and fresh to long term listeners. “Sonnet 138 (from Seven Sonnets & a Song) is transformed into a playful lover’s romp with Grabowsky’s jitter alongside Kelly’s confident vocal. Spring and Fall is sensibly mined; the rearrangement of “Time and Tide” ensures Kelly’s voice is brought forward, and his performance and phrasing are excellent. The bright and light piano sets a tone of optimism for the romantic “When a Woman Loves a Man”; Grabowsky’s playing is particularly emotive, with the smooth legato imitating the fresh water of the lyrics.
Kelly’s bond with nature is highlighted through the choice of “Petrichor” (from Life is Fine), benefiting from being paired down to piano and vocal even though the original was relatively sparse. Grabowsky’s piano imaginatively replicates the rain (“petrichor” is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil). “God’s Grandeur”, taken from album Nature and an adaptation of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, is reduced to prehistoric bones through a minimalistic approach.
As for the oldies but goodies, “Young Lovers” is transformed from its original grizzled and Western sounding version on Ways and Means. Here it becomes a Sinatra bar room tale, with its spoken word interlude and a piano intro hinting at Sinatra’s “One for my Baby”. Kelly puts in an emotional performance on the title track, “Please Leave Your Light On”, with the solemn piano backing proving a sharp contrast. It seems more comfortable and confident than the original on 2007’s Stolen Apples. “You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed” (originally on Post) feels suitably lonely with some melancholic harmonica. The song pauses two minutes in and then gently re-starts as if to suggest this is what happens in the relationship in the song.
Kelly and Grabowsky first worked together in the 1990s on Tonight Live with Steve Vizard when Grabowsky was the programmes musical director. Here they return to the song they first performed, “Winter Coat (from album Comedy). The deliberate cascading notes of Grabowsky’s piano emulate dreamlike falling snow or rain as a distinctive background to Kelly’s dramatic vocal. Similarly, Grabowsky’s expressive playing and Kelly’s resigned vocal and harmonica heightens the regret of the reworked version of “If I Could Start Today Again” from Nothing but a Dream.
The careful deconstruction of these songs serves the stories being told by emphasising their introspective, personal nature and the unravelling of relationships and emotions. Their jazz adaptation ensures that matters of the heart are well reflected, from the simple to the tricky.
Intimate and compelling, Please Leave Your Light On is a late-night balm for the downhearted.
Release Date: 31 JUL 2020