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Seven Sonnets and a Song [EP] *
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  • The argument about whether the lyrics to pop songs are poetry -- a debate that has been simmering since the '60s amongst academics and rock fans -- may never be settled. But poetry can certainly be adapted to pop songs, and the veteran Australian singer/songwriter Paul Kelly has brought us a surprising and effective example of the latter process in action. For the EP Seven Sonnets & a Song, Kelly has written music for six of William Shakespeare's sonnets, as well as adapting the song "O Mistress Mine" from the play Twelfth Night, and Sir Philip Sidney's poem "My True Love Hath My Heart." In the hands of many artists, this sort of project would sound stuffy and pretentious, as the tunesmith strives to write up to the level of Shakespeare. But here, Kelly appears to take the tack that Shakespeare was considered popular entertainment in his day, and rather than struggling to go arty, he fits these verses to smart but rootsy melodies that walk somewhere between rock, folk, and alt-country. Kelly approaches the sonnets not as fragile art, but as engaging writing that speaks eloquently of love, fury, passion, and the strongest of human emotions, and the music, simple but muscular, brings forth the strength of the words instead of watering them down. Kelly puts plenty of spirit and soul into the performances (as does Vika Bull, who takes the lead vocal on "My True Love Hath My Heart"), and there's a bold, easygoing vigor to this music that seems respectful to both the source material and Kelly's musical instincts. At less than 20 minutes, the only serious drawback of Seven Sonnets & a Song is that it ends too soon, and this is certainly a project Kelly should revisit someday. ~ Mark Deming
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