Kelly Hogan excels on many levels in the execution of her new “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain.”
The veteran singer-songwriter — an Atlanta native transplanted to the Chicago area — pulled together a stellar supporting band ranging from R&B legend Booker T. Jones on keyboards to her longtime collaborator/utility player Scott Ligon on multiple instruments. Hogan also assembled an eclectic array of material, 13 songs penned by different songwriters (including Hogan’s own touching “Golden,” inspired by her friend Neko Case).
The disparate songs call for diverse arrangements, and again Hogan comes through with various hybrids of rock, country, blues and Americana as well as such curveballs as the hymnal-feeling “Plant White Roses” (penned by Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields), the peppy pop touches that mask the subversive undertones of John Wesley Harding’s “Sleeper Awake” and the vibe-resonant lullaby “Slumber’s Sympathy” (written by Gabriel Roth).
Hogan’s dexterity and soul, delivered with confident restraint save a few dramatic moments, prove the ideal mouthpiece for fine lyrics. “The mirror only shows me someone else’s face, it seems,” she sings with matter-of-fact hurt on “We Can’t Have Nice Things” (Jack Pendarvis/Andrew Bird), and Robbie Fulks’ “Whenever You’re out of My Sight” is offered with weathered bitterness and stoic heartache: “No call, no message, no headlights in the drive ... I love you more than I trust you.”
She seems generally at ease, whether she’s unifying the ethereal nostalgia of M. Ward’s “Daddy’s Little Girl” (Frank Sinatra’s confessional to Nancy) or leading the charge on the crunchy mid-tempo “Haunted” by Jon Langford.
Hogan doesn’t fully escape multiple personality disorder, a near-inevitable result of working with so many perspectives. And her emotional rhythm seems off on Vic Chesnutt’s “Ways of This World” and a bit stilted in Handsome Family’s “The Green Willow Valley.” Still, her offbeat tones mostly work, as when she shocks herself out of the subdued context of the Robyn Hitchcock-penned title track and rips into a gutsy vent.
In the end, the evocative “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” is win-win: It turns deserving attention to many underrated (and some practically unknown) songwriters, and in the process, Kelly Hogan elevates her own profile.
Rating: 4 stars (out of five)
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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