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.