“I Like to Keep Myself In Pain” by Kelly Hogan

It’s been over a decade since Atlanta, Georgia artist Kelly Hogan put out a solo album, which leads to the question: where has she been all this time? Taking a look at her complete discography, it’s apparent that she’s been pretty busy as a collaborator with a smorgasbord of artists on several dozen records, contributing mostly as a vocalist, and she’s been a part of several bands along the way. While she’s appeared on albums by Andrew Bird, Jakob Dylan, and Mavis Staples, her main collaborating partner is Neko Case, whose band she joined back in 1998.

Over the past few decades of her career, she’s built up some good karma with a host of musical talents which she is now seeing a return on as her album I Like To Keep Myself In Pain. Released on Anti- Records, her album features many big names in its credits; R&B musicians James Gadson and Booker T. Jones make up part of her band, and the various songs were written by artists such as Robyn Hitchcock, Vic Chesnutt, M. Ward, Andrew Bird, Robbie Fulks, and Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, to name a few.

The album consists of straightforward, soulful country tunes with lots of soft guitars and organs. Her voice sounds very graceful in the beginning verses of the title track, which opens up with a brief and inexplicable yodeling solo, and then, almost out of nowhere, she belts out a long, high note that will erase any doubts of her power as a vocalist. In this song, Hogan blames her muse for the suffering she is now stuck with, which now also happens to be the only feeling she knows. Sounds like a downer, but Hogan isn’t asking for pity.

In Ward’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”, Hogan sings from the persona of Frank Sinatra to his daughter, and she does so oh-so-sweetly. “Sleeper Awake” is ebullient and peppy, but her attitude in “Ways Of This World” is more darkly appealing. After proclaiming her precociousness as a girl in the song written by fellow Georgian, Chesnutt, Hogan sings “And the years peeled away/ Like pages and pages of a novel/ Grown men, powerful men/ They will fall at my feet to grovel”. “Plant White Roses” features gospel-hinted backup vocals and an instance of funky guitar pedal effects as Hogan insists death would be preferable to a life without her beloved. Her voice is always pleasant and sometimes reveals tinges of wistfulness.

Although this is her solo album, Hogan only actually wrote one of the songs herself. That song, “Golden”, is full of words of longing, support, and encouragement for Neko Case. Regardless of a song’s authorship, Hogan’s abilities as a singer dutifully transform the lyrics of the album’s thirteen songs; but if she continues down the solo path, it would be great to hear more original tracks in order to match the soulfulness of her voice to some lyrics that come from her own experience… and hopefully she would share them on a future album before another ten years go by.

By Sarah Ruggiero

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