Klef Notes

Music Reviews

Jack Kelly's "The Carnival"

One of my favorite pieces of literature is the “Canterbury Tales” by Geoffrey Chaucer – a collection of practical tales told by weary travelers on a spiritual pilgrimage whose encounters satirically show the concealed dishonest, sinful, deeds of those usually held in high esteem within society (parishioners, judges, etc.).  Such a creative way to shine the light on a topic usually seen as unspeakable and this was all done by way of a clever narrative.  

Similar to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” music is meant to instrumentally set you on a cathartic journey which helps the listener view issues differently.  Folk music does just that – it evokes change and awareness to social norms through lyrics, melody, and rhythms. 

The Folk legends of the 1960s such as Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, and Tom Waits truly were storytellers whose music presented a different point of view to the listener and their world.  Such realism, truth, and honesty set to music was like a catharsis in the same way the pilgrimage was for the travelers in Chaucer’s’ work and this reshaped the music industry as we know it. 

Similarly, the Eagles and America brought this wonderful genre of music into the 1980s adding more elements to the mix such as Pop and Rock.  And today, we have artists like Sting, Chris Watkins* (the founding member of the band the Drunk Poets), as well as Coldplay honoring and adapting the world of music with their musical narratives.  Another artist who is adding to the list of storytellers is Jack Kelly. 

Jack Kelly is a self-taught singer, songwriter, musician, and athlete from Leeds, England who is quickly gaining recognition within the Indie Music realm as well as mainstream media.  He calls himself the Lone Songwriter, and his musical narratives have caught the eye of the BBC Introducing who now supports the artist. 

Recorded at IMWT Studios (In Music We Trust Studios) and produced by Aiden Hatfield, Kelly’s debut album titled “The Carnival” is a collection of Folk Music that impressively communicates the theme of life being a carnival.  And to clarify, Kelly’s use of the term “carnival” alludes to the North American concept of the “traveling carnival” where it is under the big top with similar roots of the circus with thrill acts, clowns, a ringmaster, animals, etc. not to be confused with the religious event entitled “carnival” that takes place a week before Lent in Catholic countries. 

While combining modern symbolism and realism, Kelly actually connects each track with a tale from some aspect of his theme of life being a carnival by musically mirroring Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”  I will allude to these “tales” in the review.  

To further illustrate this satirical theme, Kelly requested Sarah Gresswell to sketch a wolf dressed in modern garb based on the look of Hobo the Clown as his EP’s cover art to depict his modern interpretation of life’s carnivalistic ways – an homage to the 1960 dominant music genre of Folk with its descriptive grit.  Very enchanting! 

“The Carnival” houses 11 tracks: 

1. This City

2. The Ringmaster

3. Gloomy Street

4. Sing Your Blues

5. Dearest Darling

6. All Alone

7. Just a Teacher Ft. Millie Whittaker

8. A Simple Tune

9. Keep Flying with the Music

10. The Carnival is Ours

11. A Weary Tale of Wind, Dark & Rain 

Where each track fully demonstrate the EP’s theme, the seven tracks I will review lends an extended view into the artist’s point of view.  

“This City” opens the collection filled with layers of melodic instrumental changes.  Similar to the majority of Folk songs, Kelly alludes to the reality of governments being in power and society bowing to the demands usually at low means; he sings “You see this man in power / who's lived here since he's born? / he's asking from his tower / he's asking for the dawn / but the eyes just stood there widening / you said that change was good / the city saw them crumblin' / this city's oh, so, good.”  The musical highs and lows on this track set the stage for this Tale of Chaos.  Descending guitar chords complete the arrangement. 

In keeping with the musical theme of life being a carnival, the second track harkens more of a dim image but plays beautifully – a great technique by a songwriter to show musical irony.  Such an emotional beginning with a dry vocal set to a guitar played much like the chords of Doo Wop gives way to a nostalgic musical pictorial.  Aptly titled “The Ringmaster,” Kelly illustrates how sadly love can be used as a deceptive tool for selfishness where one person wants to literally be the ring master.  He lyrically expresses this endearing sarcasm by singing “And I'm still so hungry, and dying for water, whilst you're in your palace, like all the performers. But if I'm the clown, then you're the ringmaster, you put on the show, you made me a joke.”  A Tale of Irony, “The Ringmaster” is a wonderful display of descriptive songwriting; Kelly starts this song on a solemn note and sings in a mournful tone. 

A Tale of Inner Peace, “Sing Your Blues” melodically tells the story of a soldier who found inner piece by singing his story at a friend’s urging.  Telling your story, be it devastating, happy, or perplexing, heals the wound.  I’d say that Jack Kelly is Bob Dylan’s protégé as this track is reminiscent of Dylan’s 1965 “Tambourine Man.”  Lyrically, both songs depict a person in need of leadership and that person seeks out someone to help them by way of music.  Kelly sings “turn away from the rain poor boy / just turn, turn, turn away / let the music take you away poor boy / and sing your blues.”  Where both songs illustrate existential loneliness, both songs also provide the inspirational solution to that loneliness which is music.  Like I mentioned earlier, music heals what often seems unhealable – it is that catharsis that just automatically pulls out the negative and allows the positive to reside.  With Kelly’s lightly salted vocal timbre and dramatic guitar chords, the song plays like a lyrical pleading to aid a friend during a time of grief. 

Playing similar to a contemporary hymnal, the sixth song entitled “All Alone” aptly explains how life of the performing artist resemble the life of circus performers whose life sadly remains alone even though the crowds gather to see the performance.  In this Tale of Street Performers, lyrically Kelly shows this sad reality by singing “far between, the other side of town I saw a lonely clown / he told me life, was long and tough, he told me I should never give up, he said I'm all alone / and as I sing out to the street of town the crowd, they gather round.  Now I sing all alone.”  A wonderful addition to this song is Kelly’s choosing to play his guitar in 12/8 timing which splendidly reminds us of early Folk Rock and Gospel chords.  This guitar technique is fitting for this song as it complements the message of being alone.  No matter what, in life, the show must go on. 

The seventh song is titled “Just a Teacher” – a witty Tale of Change that features Millie Whittaker.  This track musically shows a likeness to Chaucer’s “the wife of bath” within the “Canterbury Tales” in that Kelly chose to show how the teacher is one of the strongest heroes within our society that often goes unnoticed, and how this overplayed reality has to change.  In like manner, Chaucer critiques the old Medieval tradition of anti-feminism in his “wife of bath.”  I love the simplicity of this track and the profound message that carries the music one illustrating the imbalance of roles within the male dominated society.  In his song, Kelly calls the female teacher the “unsung hero.”  The addition of a female vocal was priceless adding a softer tone and a feminine touch.  

The only Tale of Passion in the installment is appropriately called “The Carnival is Ours.”  This track features the most aggressive Folk music chords, but houses the softest message.  Kelly’s vocal execution just takes this well-written metaphorical piece to the heart.  “My Juliet with scars, the carnival is ours” he sings.  WOW – such passionate prose set to music. 

“A Weary Tale of Wind, Dark & Rain” sews up the collection as the final tale.  In keeping with his theme of life being like a carnival, this track serves as the “big top” of the collection in that just as the big top with all of its high emotions, thrill acts, and enthusiastic performers elevates the spirit of those coming out of the hopelessness or sadness to see the show, a song can lyrically change the darkness of our lives.  I know this seems farfetched, but let me explain Kelly’s beautiful musical metaphor.  In this Tale of angst Kelly illustrates how when the body needs to heal or reflect in order to heal, often the mind automatically selects a way to cause the healing – we see this happen a lot as songwriters when we have witnessed a tragedy or have come out of a loss and we are stricken with a paralyzing depression and do not know how to recover – it is then that suddenly a song comes to mind.  And even though we may not want to form this song because that event is the last thing we want to write about, let alone sing about, there it is on paper, on the recorder, completed and we are courageously able to face the wind, dark, or rain however the angst presents itself.  Kelly’s lyrical confirmations read as such, “Oh, weary song / where you from / the storm inside? / Oh, weak voice what's the choice of writing you? / so, sing the blues, like you do / freedom's free / and the weary tale, of hating you, is, wind, dark and rain.” Kelly’s sad Rock Folk guitar strumming, chord progression walk down, and slow approaching somber vocals evoke deep sadness and tells the story of finding the courage to deal with sorrow by way of a song.  Once again, Kelly wonderfully explains how music is saving through his songwriting.  Catharsis.  Sometimes a song chooses when to be written.  

When you listen to Kelly’s music, you see the way society and the human experience is very much like a carnival.  

At first looking at Kelly’s EP’s title “The Carnival,” you are immediately thinking of the typical carnival – life under the big top and all of its fantastic imagery, but below the surface, when you listen to this musical metaphor, the realism of how life is more like a carnival becomes unlocked – all of its melodramatic components.  “The Carnival” shows how everyone play their parts through everyday plots, dialogue, conflict, solutions, and climax.  Within life, we have our ring masters, our clowns, our tamers, our tightrope walkers (risk takers), our artists, and even those labeled freaks because society choose not to understand them.  Yes, life is more than a sketched fairytale where everything is black and white; there are so many layers to life and Kelly’s “The Carnival” splendidly illustrates this truth.  

With “The Carnival,” Kelly is breathing life back into the Concept Album – a dominant chunk of 1960s’ music that was lost when MTV became a mainstay in Pop music culture.  The concept album was richly embraced by Pink Floyd and the Eagles, to name a few, as these artists/bands used this approach to get their message across to their listeners.  In like manner, each track on Kelly’s “The Carnival” supports each other in better drawing the full picture of the album’s theme collectively versus individually – like the “Canterbury Tales.” 

I’ve always admired singer/songwriters who play, sing, and write Folk music following the footsteps of legends.  Not too many artists fully lean towards this genre because it is basically your story, an instrument, and a VOICE – you will not hear the bells and whistles that often accompany Pop, Rock, and R&B music.  So, it is a scary territory to be vocally/musically naked bearing your soul, but, it is great to see an artist brave enough to pick up where those legends mentioned above left off. 

Trailing away from the music heard on mainstream radio today, Kelly chose to give this EP a rustic sound with only his voice and his guitar being the albums key players.  And even though the production of “The Carnival” is top notch (the nostalgic sound of a record starting is placed before every one of his tracks) in keeping with his love of the artists of the 1960s, Kelly’s focus remains on the message, the songwriting, versus the music.  Nothing is overproduced. 

During a time in society where we are always pressed for time, making deadlines, checking the email, phone, and social networks, it is good to have music that makes you stop, wait, and think.  It is courageous to undertake a music genre that some would say is out of date when mainstream music is all about the seconds and not the minutes, but there is an audience so looking forward to this type of music. 

At the top of Jack Kelly's dressing room door, it should read "quiet, Bob Dylan’s protégé at work!"  So, be prepared to hear more, as this will not be his last act.  Please go to www.jackkellymusic.co.uk to sample and purchase “The Carnival” a Dylan-worthy collection of Folk Music that is sure to put you on a musical journey.  In addition, check out “The Carnival” merchandise! 

 *http://chriswatkinsdrunkpoets.weebly.com and www.klefnotes.com/music_reviews/chris_watkins__drunk_poets__our_generations_dylan_and_hendrix/


Leave a comment: