The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Iain Shedden

Leisure Panic! Dan Kelly ABC/UMA

Out­siders Heath Cullen In­de­pen­dent

Mu­si­cally there are only ten­u­ous sim­i­lar­i­ties in the out­put of Aus­tralian in­die per­form­ers Dan Kelly and Heath Cullen, but both men share gui­tar skills that have served them well solo, in bands and in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other artists, Kelly most no­tably with his Un­cle Paul at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Those chops are front and cen­tre on their re­spec­tive solo al­bums, al­though Kelly’s songs lean more to­wards rock-lite a la Bob Evans or Josh Pyke, while Cullen mines a well where names such as Leonard Co­hen and Tom Waits float to the sur­face. Start­ing with Mel­bourne-based Kelly, the singer takes a ge­o­graph­i­cal ap­proach to this lat­est of­fer­ing, sprin­kling the lyrics with ref­er­ences to Aus­tralian and over­seas land­marks, not least in the cen­tre­piece sin­gle Mel­bourne v Syd­ney, a song typ­i­cal of Kelly’s pen­chant for a sharp lyric and a twisted pop melody. “I’m not a model, not a cof­fee con­nois­seur / I’m just a bump­kin lost among the great au­teurs,” he sings be­fore the hook of the ti­tle kicks in, sung, as are many of the back­ing vo­cals and har­monies, by Kelly’s cousins Madeleine and Mem­phis Kelly (Paul’s daugh­ters). Kelly has re­leased six al­bums, three solo (in­clud­ing this one) and three with his band the Al­pha Males. This ranks as his best. All 12 songs are rid­dled with hooks, in­ven­tive ar­range­ments and of­ten with hyp­notic gui­tar in­ter­ludes, not least on the de­light­ful, brisk opener, On the Run, co-writ­ten with Augie March’s Kieran Box, which in just over nine min­utes slips from overtly poppy singalong into an in­tense in­stru­men­tal and back again. That’s fol­lowed by the dreamy psychedlia of Hy­dra Ferry and the laid-back Haters, a love song of sorts where Kelly grooves along in his best soul­ful falsetto. Never Stop the Rot is an in­sis­tent ear­worm, a fast paced, gui­tar-driven three-minute gem, while Baby Bonus is a de­li­cious coun­try stomp. All in all an in­fec­tious trav­el­ogue and ad­ver­tise­ment for pol­ished gui­tar pop. Cullen’s third solo out­ing re­peats the trick of his 2013 al­bum The Still and the Steep, for which the muso from Can­delo in south­ern NSW some­how en­listed some of LA’s big guns, in­clud­ing drum­mer Jim Keltner and gui­tarist Marc Ri­bot, to join him in the stu­dio. This time he had the less than shabby Im­posters, Elvis Costello’s side­kicks Pete Thomas (drums), Davey Faragher (bass) and Steve Nieve (key­boards) to help him out on the eight songs here, recorded at Mel­bourne’s Sing Sing stu­dios. Much of Out­siders taps tra­di­tional rootsy styles, mu­si­cally and lyri­cally, with­out push­ing the bound­aries of either. Cullen’s voice shifts from a se­duc­tive whis­per (the Co­hen-es­que Who’ll Ring the Bell?, One For the Road) to a more ur­gent Amer­i­cana twang ( An­other Blue World). Iron­i­cally the most au­then­tic and en­gag­ing vo­cal comes on the clos­ing, heart­felt cover of Robyn Hitch­cock’s Flana­gan’s Song. Over­all, it’s the en­sem­ble chem­istry and artistry that gets Out­siders over the line.

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