Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen: Death’s Dateless Night

paulkellycharlieowen_deathsdatelessnightFascinating set of songs requested for funerals

Having established himself as one of Australia’s premier singer-songwriters, Paul Kelly’s also established himself as one of the continent’s most creative musical artists. His recent releases include an album of Shakespeare sonnets set to song, a live collaboration and album with Neil Finn, and an A-Z tour and accompanying eight-CD anthology of his entire song catalog. His latest, a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Owen, collects songs the two musicians had been asked to perform at funerals. It’s a remarkable playlist of songs selected by the deceased and as salve for the souls of those left behind.

What’s most fascinating are the new layers of meaning these songs gain in a funereal frame, and the philosophical continuities exposed by their juxtaposition. Stephen Foster’s nineteenth century parlor song “Hard Times Come Again No More” moves from a plea to the fortunate to a consideration of everyone’s equality at life’s end, and Cole Porter’s western-themed “Don’t Fence Me In” points to freedoms that eventually accrue to all good souls. Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” essays earthly bonds that may be released in the hereafter, and Townes Van Zandt’s soaring “To Live is to Fly” provides a hopefully ironic twist.

Owen’s atmospheric and largely spare backings of piano, dobro and lap steel couple with Kelly’s guitar to provide contemplative spaces for the vocals. Everything from the turn-of-the-century “Pallet on the Floor” through the Beatles “Let It Be” fit easily together. Kelly adds two originals (“Nukkanya” and “Meet Me in the Middle of the Air”), the traditional Irish farewell “The Parting Glass,” and closes with Hank Williams’ “Angel of Death.” The latter’s cautionary note to the living suggests that the previously essayed rewards aren’t guaranteed. The album’s frame is a remarkable idea, and its execution superb. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Paul Kelly’s Home Page
Charlie Owen’s Facebook Page

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