It seems like a simple concept…take an accomplished song stylist, ask some of the best songwriters around to write a tune for her and then put together a crack band to give the songs and the singer the right backing. I guess if it was simple, it would happen more often, but thankfully that’s exactly what took place on Kelly Hogan’s new album.
You’d be forgiven if Kelly name doesn’t jump off the screen. This is her first album in over ten years and her third overall as a solo artist. In the 1990s, she was a member of Atlanta’s ill-fated The Jody Grind, then spent some time with The Rock A Teens. But more recently, Kelly has been the backing vocalist for Neko Case.
Having neglected her own career in order to support her friend, Hogan found herself back in the spotlight thanks to Anti Records Andy Kaulkin who suggested she record for his label. Kelly decided to call in a few favours from artists she had worked with over the years and asked the likes of M Ward, John Wesley Harding, Robyn Hitchcock and The Handsome Family to each write a song for her. Kaulkin helped assemble her studio band that included legendary keyboard player Booker T Jones (Booker T & The MGs), drummer James Gadson (Bill Withers), bass player Gabriel Roth (The Daptones) and guitarist Scott Ligon (NRBQ). Often, these sorts of all-star get-togethers turn out to be less the sum of their parts, but that’s not the case here.
First of all, the participating songwriters have come up with some of the best work of their careers. Andrew Bird’s We Can’t Have Nice Things is a prime example. It’s a beautiful song and Hogan has the chops to really get inside it. Meanwhile the band is excelled. Roth begins with a throbbing bass line, Gadson’s drums build up the tension and when Jones’ organ comes in it really propels the song and the performance.
Robyn Hitchcock’s title tune is another gem. Hogan and the band turn it into a country-soul weeper. I can imagine George Jones or Patsy Cline really having their way with it, but thankfully Kelly is more than capable. Ligon adds some gorgeous guitar runs after Hogan lets out a heart-rending howl.
M Ward’s Daddy’s Little Girl is another highlight. Hogan starts by singing, “My name is Frank (a long pause) Sinatra. Again the band contributes another subtle yet stellar performance as Kelly reveals the song to be a tribute to Frank’s little girl, Nancy.
Kelly’s late friend Vic Chesnutt also gets a song in. Ways Of This World is another southern soul goodie that would have sounded in place on a Bobbie Gentry album. Hogan belts it out in a dramatic reading.
Additional songs by Stephin Merritt, John Wesley Harding and Robbie Fulks are equally enticing. Hogan has one of her own among the 13 tracks. Golden is a song Kelly wrote with Neko Case in mind. The record closes with an older tune…Pass On By, by Margaret Ann Rich (Charlie’s wife,) gets a bluesy treatment and a triumphant Booker T solo.
This is a thoroughly satisfying album and one only has to ask…why Kelly Hogan has taken so long to get around to record her own album, and when will she do it again?
Click here to listen to We Can’t Have Nice Things from I Like To Keep Myself In Pain: