REVIEW: Paul Kelly’s “Nature” is Homage to the Sublime, Nature and Mortality


Paul Kelly’s new album Nature (Cooking Vinyl) features Kelly’s acoustic guitar playing in bright tones, with hopeful clean sounds and easy rhythms sometimes meandering among the tambourine.  A host of musicians and artists contributed to Kelly’s album; among them Cameron Bruce on organs and pianos, Myee Clohessy and Xani Kolac and Lisa Stewart on violin, Stefan Duwe on viola,  Anna Martin-Scrase on cello; (Kelly’s nephew) Dan Kelly on guitars, Peter Luscombe on drums and percussion,  Bill McDonald on bass and Ashley Naylor on guitar.  Vocals were provided by Linda and Vika Bull,  Alice Keath, Maddy and Memphis Kelly, Kate Miller-Heidke.

Fans of sublime artists from Edmund Burke to Salvador Dali will appreciate the kindred cover art on this album, by Lucy Dyson and Paul Kelly.  The concept of the sublime has a long history in aesthetics and philosophy stretching from Immanuel Kant to Jean-François Lyotard, analyzing the experience of awe that occurs when confronted with infinity and nature, which we label “sublime.” Kelly’s album falls squarely within this tradition, with his sublime songwriting and lyrical portrayals of the awesome, unknowable qualities of nature and the universe.

The songs on this album paint lofty metaphysical perspectives on nature. Along the way, most of the songs serve as reminders of mortality as well. For four of the album’s twelve songs,  Kelly set words from poets Sylvia Plath, Dylan Thomas, Gerald Manley Hopkins and Walt Whitman to music.  The rest, he matched with his own lyrical depth.

“And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is Dylan Thomas’ poem set to clear toned music with its “though lovers be lost, love shall not, and death shall have no dominion” — sobering thoughts over happy music.  “With Animals,” the Walt Whitman poem, describes the ways in which it really would be preferable to live with animals.

In “Morning Storm,” “here all is death and birth” is another expansive ode to the universe and again lifts us to the sublime majesty of nature and, along with it, humbling mortality and the life cycle.

In “Little Wolf,” Kelly creates a tale of a wild lover who’s been lost to us with “I miss your low growl …   I’ve been too long without you up against my skin,” even as the song is also a wondrous depiction of life from a wolf’s perspective.

By the time you get to the song “Mushrooms,” Sylvia Plath’s poem, you’re completely under the spell of the wonder of nature, because, well, how do those fungi do it, appearing overnight and in those mysterious, mass interconnected networks?  But it’s Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poem-turned-song, “God’s Grandeur,” that’s the heart of the album, with his “the world is charged with the grandeur of god,” taking us to the heights of majestic openness with loping rhythms.  To experience the sublime infinity of nature, and of Paul Kelly’s thinking and songwriting, get your copy right here:

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