Released on vinyl in 1982, and then reprinted on CD circa 2001 as a fan club exclusive and again as a general release in 2009, Kelly is the sole solo outing for the late Kelly Groucutt, whose musical claim to fame was as the bassist and soaring backup vocalist for ELO and, later, ELO Part II / The Orchestra. Groucutt had the help of most of his bandmates in recording his album, with the most conspicuous holdout being Jeff Lynne himself; perhaps not surprisingly, the entire album is very much in the style of ELO’s halcyon days (namely the mid/late 1970s). Groucutt was already an integral part of the ELO sound from that period, and Kelly can almost be seen – or heard – as an audition for the opportunity to take an even wider role creatively within the group.
As always, Groucutt’s vocal range is beyond merely impressive, and his singing voice doesn’t thin out when he edges toward baritone or falsetto. Having seen him play live with ELO Part II, I can vouch for the fact that the man could, quite simply, belt out a tune – and with his vocal abilities, he could belt out nearly any tune you can think of. But Kelly also shows off his songwriting abilities, and it’s quite evident that Groucutt was paying very very close attention to how songs were put together in ELO’s signature style; much of this album could fit in seamlessly on nearly any ELO album between Face The Music and Time (the ELO album whose release immediately preceded Kelly).
Songs like “Am I A Dreamer” (presented here in both demo and finished recordings) and “Sea Of Dreams” seem like they could’ve been strong candidates to become classic ELO songs. Groucutt also clearly shared Lynne’s love of classic ’50s rock – his background vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Lynne’s work, but they also have just a hint of doo-wop to them. “Midnight Train” and “Black Hearted Woman” show ’70s roots, but the former especially highlights the unique rapport between Groucutt and ELO violinist Mik Kaminski, who provides hoedown-worthy fiddle work as well as coaxing “train whistle” effects out of his violin. The two would later form OrKestra, which would later be absorbed by ELO Part II.
There is, however, one huge problem with the re-release of Kelly that’s distressing: the sound quality. I’m assuming that the original vinyl release of Kelly didn’t sound like this does: the CD winds up sounding like it was mastered from a very well-worn cassette tape. Disappointingly, most of the songs sound tinny and hollow, with almost no bass frequencies… which is almost a slap in the face to the memory of someone who was, in fact, a bass player. Actually, I have a confession to make: back in the heady days of Napster, before this album was re-released, I downloaded several individual tracks from someone’s vinyl-to-CD-R copy of Kelly because I’d heard of the album but had never actually heard any of the songs… and to be brutally honest, the commercially-released CD sounds like it was mastered from those very badly-recorded, lo-fi MP3 tracks.
I give high marks for the music: Kelly Groucutt was willing, ready, and capable of taking a more direct creative role in the future of ELO, but – again, to be brutally honest – by this time Jeff Lynne had almost certainly realized that his future fortunes rested with holding the publishing rights to ELO’s output, and therefore wasn’t about to let go of the “central / sole songwriter” role. Which is unfortunate, because his sideman was clearly ready to help out. (I have to say that this also makes me reconsider Lynne’s more recent complaints, in some of the remastered ELO catalog’s liner notes, about bearing the heavy creative burden of the group alone; having heard Kelly, I call BS. More creative energy was there if he had only permitted it. I’m not going to say that a Lynne/Groucutt songwriting partnership would’ve been another Lennon/McCartney, but it might have kept ELO on track or extended the group’s life span.)
Now I’d just like to see someone honor Mr. Groucutt’s memory by carrying out a proper remastering of his one solo album. These are great songs – I’d just like to hear them in a sound quality that befits the quality of the songwriting and performance on display here. (Feel free to do the same with OrKestra’s unreleased-on-CD album too, while you’re at it.)
- Am I A Dreamer (3:45)
- Oh Little Darling (3:29)
- Dear Mama (4:33)
- You Don’t Need To Hold Me Tight (3:56)
- Black Hearted Woman (3:27)
- Midnight Train (3:52)
- Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again (3:12)
- Anything Goes With Me (3:33)
- Can’t Stand The Morning (3:11)
- Old Rock & Roller (3:48)
- You’ve Been Telling Lies (3:10)
- Sea Of Dreams (4:47)
- I’ll Cry For You Tonight (4:06)
- Am I A Dreamer (3:42)
Released by: Renaissance
Release date: 1982 / reissued in 2009
Total running time: 52:31