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The A to Z Recordings
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  • Back in 1990, Texas songwriter Butch Hancock staged a massive, six-night event entitled No Two Alike, wherein he played six straight evenings at Austin's Cactus Cafe. In the process, he recorded 140 of his own songs without repeating one. He then released the output later on cassette tapes. The reason for citing Hancock in a Paul Kelly review, particularly this one, is simply to establish the only precedent for this wonderful eight-disc live box set, the A to Z Recordings. Between 2004 and 2010, the revered Australian songwriter would perform his now legendary A to Z concerts, during which he would play two (largely) unplugged sets per evening for four nights, performing many of his songs, all in alphabetical order. Issued in Australia in 2010 and re-released in Europe and the United States in 2012, The A to Z Recordings is quite literally a staggering document. Kelly displays here that even in the maddening sprawl of alphabetical order, he is a master storyteller who understands the balance of drama, humor, romance, tragedy, and history. The simplicity and economy of his melodies underscore a poet's gift for sensory impression that morphs into nearly physical detail with startling accuracy, gritty yet romantic resonance, and depth. His complex yet recognizable characters and conjured scenes and circumstances are rife with the conflicts, joys, pleasures, sorrows, griefs, celebrations, and the amorous and familial loves and losses of everyday life. His songs can be gritty and graceful, sometimes simultaneously. Check "Beggar on the Street of Love," "(The Ballad Of) Queenie and Rover," "Blues for Skip," "Other People's Houses," "Shane Warren," and ""Standing on the Street of Early Sorrows," for a few examples of these 105 selections. The recording quality here is consistently warm, precise, even pristine. The booklet contains loads of artwork, and single and double sentence observations about these songs. The A to Z Recordings is indispensable for Kelly fans. Hearing these songs in stripped-down form is to aurally glimpse them as they were written, revealing the songwriter's resonance and considerable depth. This box set is being re-released along with remastered versions of Kelly's early catalog, and his 2012 album, Spring and Fall. What The A to Z Recordings accomplishes in total, is to reveal to the rest of us what Kelly fans have known for decades: that he is a songwriter whose peers are few; they include Townes Van Zandt, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, and Ronnie Laine. ~ Thom Jurek
Professional Reviews
Record Collector (magazine) (p.97) - "[T]he nuances and intelligence he brings to his craft put him in a category with equally broadly inspired troubadours such as John Hiatt, Ron Sexsmtih or Elvis Costello..."
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