The Singer-Songwriter as Poet

Coming from a classical music background I have never been a fan of rock’n’roll. When I have been exposed to it in the past, it has been played so loudly that I could only tolerate the assault on my hearing for a very short period. I have been aware that there are words to the songs but at that volume, and with the thump, thump, thump of the backing, I found I couldn’t hear, let alone understand, any of them. However, this weekend I finally found a rock’n’roll singer I could relate to.

Paul Kelly is a poet who sings. Listening to him perform in the music shell at Leeuwin Estate, with two supporting singers and a simple backing combo, was a revelation. His songs were sometimes sad, sometimes funny and sometimes pure celebrations of life. I could hear and understand every word, which allowed me to appreciate his great sense of rhyme, in particular. He could build up my expectation, then surprise me with a word or phrase. His rhymes were never forced, always totally appropriate, and yet they turned my expectation on its head.

Like Leonard Cohen, Paul Kelly doesn’t have a strong singing voice, but he knows how to use a dramatic pause, sometimes even a short period of silence, to keep his listeners focusing and entertained. He is such a clever performer. Combined with his two backing singers, who do have wonderful singing voices, but never upstaged him, he has completely won me over.

I don’t promise to buy his music, but I would be happy to buy a book of his lyrics any day.

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