When it comes to choosing the music to listen to, these days most everyone cherry-picks. How many times have you heard a friend say something along the lines of, "I just downloaded this cool song" or "I don’t buy albums anymore since there is usually just one or two songs that are any good."
In the era of the iPod, when was the last time you or any music lover in your life decided to dive head-first into a new record, immersing in every line of every song from beginning to end?
Well, I just did. A couple of weeks ago, with headphones on, I popped Paul Kelly’s latest, "Spring and Fall" into my CD player and found myself absolutely engrossed for the next 38 minutes and 26 seconds.
And that is what the extraordinary Australian singer-songwriter wanted: an old-school album immersion.
From a tour stop on the west coast, Kelly talked about how his new "song cycle" came together.
"What happened was I had a fairly long break from songwriting because I had written a book. So when I came back to thinking about a record I wanted to be different than what I’ve done before. ... I had a couple of old songs that were six and seven years old that were sort of in the drawer. And I was waiting for them to find their moment I guess."
The first seed planted for "Spring and Fall" was "When a Woman Loves a Man," which Kelly (who will be appearing at The Iron Horse on Friday) had written years ago for the fellow Aussie singer Renee Geyer. Another melodic composition entitled "Someone New" was put aside since Kelly wasn’t quite sure quite sure what to do with it.
Then the concept slowly began to coalesce. "A song kinda fell out called ‘Cold as Canada,’ which is a leave-taking song. It was about that time that I thought to myself, hmmm, ‘When a Woman Loves a Man’ is sort of a song that goes to the beginning of love. ‘Someone New’ is a turning point song, a soliloquy where someone talks to themselves but they’re in the middle of the relationship. So that is when the little lightbulb went off. I thought, ‘Well, I got a beginnings song, I got a middle song where things start to turn, and I have a leave-taking song. Maybe I can fill in the gaps’."
Kelly did fill the gaps, but not with filler; just one beautifully rendered, emotionally complex song after another, all flowing through the arc of romantic love, with all the bumps and bruises along the way. A cohesive collection. An album meant to be heard as a whole. No shuffle. No random. No cherry-picking.
"Great albums do that," explained Kelly. "There were three records that were touchstones for us making ‘Spring and Fall.’ When we were driving out in the country, the records we would play. ‘Veedon Fleece’ by Van Morrison, ‘Paris 1919’ by John Cale, and ‘Chelsea Girls,’ a Nico record. For me, those are records that you just put on and listen to."
Emulating those cohesive records will not a one-time thing for Kelly. "I might be heading towards making records strongly themed. It seems to me now with the choices people have of listening to music, that it is important for an artist that if you are going to make an album to make it stand out. That is the aim, from now on."
Dave Madeloni writes a music column for Ovation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.