Paul Kelly tells us that he is a legend, not a star. This album goes a long way towards proving that he is a legend, but leaves me wondering why he isn't a star. He is a star in his native Australia. "Songs from the South", his greatest hits compilation, is a multi-platinum album there. But in the States, he barely registers. Americans are missing one of the best living singer-songwriters.
"...nothing but a dream" is Paul Kelly's most recent album. It may also be his most personal album, although he is very quick to direct attention away from his personal life. For example, when he recently performed 'Midnight Rain' on NPR, the interviewer asked him if he could tell her anything about the song. His response? 'The song in the car is real, the rest of it is made up.' This artful dodge of a question is indicative of his worldview: his songs should stand on their own, they tell a universal story that does not apply to just him. Other singer-songwriters strive for this and miss; Paul Kelly delivers on each track.
It is fair to break this album up into quarters, each quarter boasting its own theme. The first three songs discuss love lost. 'Midnight Rain' is an effective evocation of how the memory of a long-time lover sneaks up on you at the most unexpected times, and the strange little memories you keep of that love. The next four songs shift tempo. Although they are not necessarily about love lost, but rather about the transience of love. 'Somewhere in the City', with its driving rhythm, gives us a glimpse of frustration and desire. The next four are about the insistent march of time. The sardonic wit of 'I Wasted Time' helps confront this reality.
The final four songs on the American release of "...nothing but a dream" are not technically a part of the album. They are from the earlier Australia-only EP for "Roll on Summer". Although these tracks break the flow of the album, this is forgiveable for the sardonic wit of 'I Was Hoping You'd Say That' and the dry humour of 'Every F***ing City'. The latter, a laundry list of European cities visited with and without (mostly without) a girl, makes most listeners give a knowing nod at the lyric 'I was hoping that the break would make things go a little better for us / and for a little while it almost did'.
In all, this is a solid album. For an American audience that has not yet heard of Paul Kelly, this is an excellent introduction to his music. For the already established fan, this album continues to show his evolution as a singer-songwriter.