The phenomenal success of O Brother in a sea of schmaltz spooked herds of one trick ponies to gallop through the genre.

But as an experienced world traveller Paul Kelly doesn't have to fabricate Appalachia or the bluegrass fields of Kentucky.

Kelly hooked up with multi-instrumentalist and prolific producer Rod McCormack for his 19th album - a sequel of sorts to 1999 disc Smoke with Uncle Bill.

The singer entrees with hook heavy Stumbling Block but boxing tents in agricultural shows of past eras in Gippsland and beyond ignite Rally Around The Drum - a 1992 co-write with rural refugee Archie Roach.

Kelly is rarely geographically specific on a disc featuring McCormack on guitar, Ian Simpson on banjo, bassist James Gillard, Mick Albeck on fiddle-violin and veteran mandolin player Trev Warner.

Sure, he retreats to 1989 disc So Much Water So Close To Home for Cities Of Texas but relies on personal parables, tales of redemption, suffering and death for fuel.

Fear of death permeates a seasoned title track that benefits from a bluegrass revamp.

But premature departure of children haunts Ghost Town and Passed Over - one of two songs featuring Gerry Hale, Simpson, Jim Fisher, Nigel McLean and Fred Kuhnl.

There's pathos in Song Of The Old Rake and forbidden love in Don't Stand So Close To The Window, reprised from 1988.

It's not clear if death was the stimulus for Kelly - one of eight siblings who lost their sire way too soon - for childhood memories of parental tears in a car trip in They Thought I Was Asleep.

But the post sleep imagery that sweetens Down To My Soul has realism akin to starkly contrasting sentiments of historic Louvin Brothers tune You're Learning with Kasey Chambers as guest vocalist.

It's no surprise Kelly finishes with an a capella treatment of Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air, reportedly inspired by
a Shelley poem on the transitory nature of life.

Kelly may not have commercial clout of bluegrass belles Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss but his purist passion makes this credible.

And McCormack's production ensures Kelly's distinctive sound is not lost in a disc to be promoted in a July tour.

CLICK HERE for those dates in our Gig Guide.

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