“Kelly’s latest love letter is another jewel in an ever-expanding and consistently brilliant discography.”
JEFF KELLY – BENEATH THE STARS, ABOVE THE RIVER
(CD on Green Monkey)
The Green Pajamas’ front man returns with another solo album, which takes the form of a love letter to his beloved fado and flamenco music, experienced during his and wife Susanne’s recent travels to Spain and Portugal. While not overtly traditional, these songs form the soundtrack to strolls through hidden corners of the Iberian peninsula, experiencing the rains on the Douro River (‘River Rain 1’ and ‘2’, ‘Douro River Wind’), poor beggars in the streets (‘Señor, Señor’), and slice-of-life reminisces of the señora in a scanner station, drinking beer under cathedral bells, or watching Romani gypsy street scenes. It’s a musical travelogue of a holiday that almost feels like you’re accompanying the Kellys every step along their journey.
From the opening accordion and flamenco-styled acoustic guitars, we are transported into the title track lyric from ‘The Initial Kiss’, that magnetic attraction for your new home for the next few weeks. ‘Señor, Señor’ and ‘Moon Over Granada’ pull out the full electric instrument arsenal and are closest to the full Green Pajama experience (complete with Kelly’s irresistible penchant of earworm melodies)., and ‘Todo por la Gitano’ revisits the swaying waltz-like cadence of tracks like ‘Laura Petry’s Eyes’ (from 1990’s Portugal), with lilting “la la la’s” of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Joan of Arc’ (both are Kelly fascinations) and bullfight-like, mariachi brass flourishes tossed in for extra atmospheric impact.
Vampires have always fascinated Kelly (cf., ‘Vampire Kiss’), and ‘The Lisbon Vampire’ is another eerie addition to the canon, while ‘Lily’ and ‘Kiss The Moon Hello’ also float along the warm summer winds of flamenco guitar accompaniment, the latter also evincing a cinematic aura, like Cohen collaborating with Ennio Morricone scoring a “tapas Western”! ‘Alleys of Music’ ends our musical holiday on a nostalgic note, as we wander aimlessly through the titular alleys accompanied by (presumably) Susanne’s harmonies, muted brass embellishments, and experience the surprise and wander of what lies undiscovered around the next corner. No maps or tourist guides to assist us as we “get lost in the alleys of Madrid”.
Fans of both the Pajamas and Kelly’s distinctive solo work will certainly hear much to enjoy in this collection of musical snapshots of his vacation in the Iberian peninsula, absorbing and regurgitating the musical atmosphere encountered along the way. The lyric booklet aids in the album’s enjoyment, filling in the blanks of misheard lyrics and effectively capturing . Like previous visual songs such as ‘Photographs’, Kelly brilliantly transforms photographic images into musical ‘snapshots’. Imagine going on holiday and creating songs instead of taking photographs to capture your experiences. Somewhat reminiscent of his 1997 Rosary and The House of Jade concept album (included in Camera Obscura’s Melancholy Sun box set in 1999), Kelly’s latest love letter is another jewel in an ever-expanding and consistently brilliant discography.