Kelly has haunted a good many corners of the American-into-indie world, touring
with the OCS (back when Dwyer spelled it like that) and the Fall, playing back-up for Beth Orton and Will Oldham.
The Corner Man, his fourth recording
as The Cairo Gang, falls not too far from Oldham’s
neighborhood, offering a hushed and understated folk music, spare until it
turns lush, quiet until it blasts off and hemmed in until it vaults off into
for instance, the opening cut, “Everybody Knows,” which starts in the starkest
sort of simplicity, guitar strings plucked hard with plenty of space between
them, contemplative piano runs and a hollowed out, far-away drum. Kelly’s voice
rises quietly over this foundation, finding the silences between the phrases,
flowering from workman-like tenor to emotive, tremulous falsetto. There’s a pedal steel guitar round the middle
of the piece that reinforces the heartache under phrases like “It’s not the
same.” Yet at the same time, there’s a lift in the song, right towards end,
when the main vocal line is wreathed in harmonies and the melody takes a turn
towards revival hall certainty. There’s nothing show-offy about the track, no
definitive moment when it turns from standard-issue minimalist Americana
into something bigger, but it does.
“Gland in Gland” starts in a quiet so vast that tumbleweeds might blow through
its occasional guitar licks – and doesn’t even have a regular tempo until the
drums kick in a minute or two after the start. Here Kelly swoops and swoons
vocally making octave-length jumps with Jeff Buckley’s cool, casual flair, but
that’s the one baroque thing about the song. The rest is plain, reticent,
austerely beautiful, never a chord when a note alone would do.
a bit of power pop bravado to cuts like “Now You Are One Of Us,” its soft-denim
sincerity undercut by glammy vocal flourishes and Who-like windmill chords, and
inches close to rock on “Put on a Smile,” when big distorted guitar sounds
break through the subdued blue verse.
“Gone Is the Light” has a bit of Akron/Family’s country-folk
improvisatory abandon, as feathery Celtic guitar licks give way to anthemic,
mildly disorienting psychedelia. Then
it’s back into the dark corner again with the small hours retrospection, the
voice and guitar simplicity of “Ill Force.”
quite a subtle album, its affect achieved not by piling sounds on top of each
other, but by drawing out, isolating and polishing each individual element.
Rounded, well-considered notes are left to ring, no hurry to get to the next
ones. Lines are allowed to hang in the air, like riddles that may or may not
have a solution. Song structures are loose, leaving as much room to think about
each new development as for the development itself. It’s as if, having spent so
much time setting off the work of other artists, Kelly understands that the
right amount of embellishment is just a bit less than you expect.
DOWNLOAD: “Now You Are One of Us” “Gone Is the Light” JENNIFER KELLY