Ways & Means
First Appeared at The Music Box, March 2004, Volume 11, #3
Written by John Metzger
There’s little doubt that Paul Kelly is Australia’s best-kept secret. He’s been kicking out jangly roots-rock tunes for more than 20 years, and yet he inexplicably remains a relative unknown in the U.S. market. His latest outing Ways & Means is an ambitious 2-disc, 21-song affair that highlights every aspect of an artist who certainly deserves greater name recognition than he’s received. Throughout the album, Kelly invokes the essence of his legendary heroes — most notably combining the styles of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, and John Lennon into a delectable stew that sounds not unlike similar concoctions from Dan Bern and Steve Wynn. It’s a little bit country; a little bit rock ’n‘ roll, and all of it is delivered with such soulful passion that it becomes irresistible.
Ways & Means does have one flaw, however: its organization makes it a little tough to swallow. The first disc features a series of peppy, amplified pop songs, while the second mines acoustic fare that is slower, more ambient, and reflective. Imagine if, in crafting The White Album, The Beatles had placed tunes like Back in the U.S.S.R., Yer Blues, Savoy Truffle, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and Helter Skelter on the first two sides and filled the latter pair with tracks like Dear Prudence, I Will, Good Night, Blackbird, and Cry Baby Cry. Good as all these songs are, their effectiveness would have been diminished significantly by the congruity of the pacing, and that’s exactly what happens to Kelly on Ways & Means. Instead of a fully cohesive album about affairs of the heart, it’s more akin to two separate outings packaged as a single entity. In particular, the second disc feels like it meanders, when its songs — from the spiraling, swirling, Pink Floyd-ian space of Little Bit O’ Sugar to the tranquility of Your Loving Is on My Mind — are beautiful, majestic, and damn near perfect. Perhaps, this is a minor quibble, but a somewhat edited and slightly rearranged format might have yielded a magnificent masterpiece. Still, its current incarnation is far better than most double-disc sets, largely because each track is a genuine slice of songwriting heaven.
Ways & Means is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box