Album of the Week, December 22: I Like to Keep Myself in Pain by Kelly Hogan

HoganKeepMyselfKelly Hogan was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. She rose to prominence in the Jody Grind, an eclectic band that mixed jazz, country, pop, indie rock, and whatever else they thought sounded good into a delightful stew. Hogan’s powerful voice and strong sense of musical nuance blended well to make the mix magical. Sadly two of the band were killed in a car accident shortly after the release of their second album. Hogan continued to sing in Atlanta clubs and worked with the Rock*A*Teens for a couple of years. She also released a solid debut album that showed off a clearer — but still varied — sense of music. Over the years she has moved to Chicago; worked as a bartender, personal assistant, and label promoter; and (perhaps most famously) become a regular member of Neko Case’s band. What she hasn’t done is release many records, with only two discs coming out between her solo debut in 1996 and last year. I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, however, was well worth the wait.

Title I Like to Keep Myself In Pain
Act Kelly Hogan
Label Anti- Release Date June 4, 2012
Producer Kelly Hogan and Andy Kaulkin
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
  1. Dusty Groove
  2. We Can’t Have Nice Things
  3. I Like to Keep Myself in Pain
  4. Haunted
  5. Daddy’s Little Girl
  6. Golden
  7. Ways of the World
  8. Slumber’s Sympathy
  9. Plant White Roses
  10. Sleeper Awake
  11. The Green Willow Valley
  12. Whenever You’re Out of My Sight
  13. Pass On By

The album features a stellar band: legendary keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Gabriel Roth, and prolific session drummer James Gadson. This unit gets behind Hogan’s complex musical vision and provides flawless support. The songwriters are a powerful bunch, too. Having worked as a backing and harmony vocalist with so many artists over the years, Hogan has a big group of talented friends. She invited them to send her songs for the disc, and they gladly complied. Luminaries from Stephin Merritt to Robyn Hitchcock, John Wesley Harding to Vic Chesnutt, and many more supplied perfect vessels for Hogan’s vocals.

The disc is very much her show, however. As the arranger and co-producer, she is clearly in charge of the vision and crafts a nearly flawless album.  While the overall sound is country-tinged indie pop, certainly her most familiar territory, she sustains the sense of adventure and whimsy that have marked her career and collaborations. Things kick off strong with the tasty Dusty Groove, fittingly a song about music as a lifestyle.

We Can’t Have Nice Things is one of the best tracks Hogan has ever recorded, a passionate whisper of pain that demonstrates her vocal mastery. In an “Everybody’s Got Talent” era of armchair belters, clear proof that a powerful vocal needn’t channel the worst of Mariah Carey is truly welcome. The song is an inspiration of beautiful losers and broken dreams. Robyn Hitchcock contributed the title track, a charmingly quirky song about using the darkness in life to remember that there is light out there. With a lovely whistle and slightly off-key moments, it’s one of the best-arranged tracks.

Haunted comes from the pen of frequent collaborator Jon Langford. It’s a rousing song of determination and one of the best fits for Hogan’s delivery. A real surprise comes with Daddy’s Little Girl, in which Hogan channels the ghost of Sinatra. It shouldn’t work, but somehow she captures the essence and phrasing, giving the grandiose (and sometimes valid) bragging a real humanity. Golden is another musical tribute, in this case written by Hogan for longtime friend Neko Case. It’s a touching celebration of why music matters, even if it isn’t “comin’ out of my radio.”

Ways of the World is a neo-gospel torcher from the late Vic Chsenutt, a flawless gothic channel for Hogan to inhabit. Slumber’s Sympathy gets a bit lost in the shuffle, but it’s a charming song. Stephin Merritt’s Plant White Roses is urban country punk with heart and sounds as if he wrote it just for Hogan. John Wesley Harding, another long-time comrade-in-music, provided Sleeper Awake. It’s a charming number from his back catalog that Hogan adapts nicely.

The final trio of songs celebrate a handful of styles that show off Hogan’s experience and quiet power. Green Willow Valley could be an Appalachian traditional tune and has a dramatic, dirgelike power. Whenever You’re Out of My Sight is straight-out torch song, letting Hogan cut loose and prove that she’s got power to spare, when she chooses to wield it fully. Things wrap up with the gospel-tinged Pass On By, a nice live-my-life number to bring things to a rousing close. Kelly Hogan may not release solo albums very often, but if they are always this good, they are more than worth the wait.

FURTHER LISTENING: Because of her many hats and frequent collaborations, Kelly Hogan only has a half-dozen albums to her name (including the two Jody Grind discs). All of them are certainly worthwhile. The first Jody Grind album, One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure, is an absolute delight and the most eclectic collection. Her first solo album, The Whistle Only Dogs Can Hear, has some great songs but is a bit uneven. Her collaboration with Jon Langford’s Pine Valley Cosmonauts, (beneath the country underdog), is the most consistent album before Pain.


About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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