Seattle’s Jeff Kelly has appeared many times at Elsewhere for over a decade, initially when we made the case for his classy and literate pop-rock with the band Green Pajamas (intelligent indie-pop and sometimes hitting the perfect pop-rock point of the Beach Boys and Beatles 1965-66), then in a different incarnation on acoustic-framed and artistic albums and now . . .
His travels to Spain and Portugal have opened the doors for him into flamenco and fado but he brings something of a more traditional pop-rock songwriter’s ear and sensibility in his lyrics where images of mysterious women from a Romantic painting or a dark cafe in Madrid appear like phantoms.
“I fell in love again under the bells,” he sings on If Only, “dark beer and olives and smoke as the evening fell, the mournful ringing casting a spell.”
Later Cecelia, Queen of Hearts arrives: “If you need [a heart] broken, she’s where it starts, you’ll want her to hurt you, to torture you slow . . .”
These are beautiful and sensual women without mercy (O Vampira de Lisboa) and sometimes a bigger danger lurks (“where danger is just an x-ray away”) when Kelly considers a beautiful woman who scans baggage but has a lover and so the song is steeped in desire and sexual longing.
Kelly delivers these songs with an intimacy which brings them home and also propels others with convincing pop-rock (the guitar jangle Senor Senor which revert back to the greatness of Green Pajamas and Moon Over Granada touches the spirit of a more gritty Tom Petty in his Traveling Wilburys period) or move towards a dreamy Mediterranean heat (Hush of the Southern Night).
Kelly is one of those rare artists whose catalogue – like that of former Saint Chris Bailey and Steve Kilbey of the Church – seems to broaden and deepen with every release as musical curiosity is married to new experiences and lyrical refinement.
Here ,with musical influences from the Iberian Peninsula, his acute storytelling (Todo por la Gitana) and these sophisticated, poetic songs where he played just about every instrument himself, Jeff Kelly once again confirms he is a rare writer . . . especially when it now comes to wine, women and Spain.