Wild Mercury Sound

The Cairo Gang: "The Corner Man"

The Cairo Gang: "The Corner Man"
John Mulvey

Emmett Kelly has been making records as The Cairo Gang for a good few years now but, if he’s known at all, chances are it’s for his unusually enduring role in Will Oldham’s band: the amazing Royal Stable site suggests he’s been in on most Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy projects since 2006.

The most prominent of these, I guess, would be 2010’s “Wonder Show Of The World”, for which The Cairo Gang got equal billing with Billy. Kelly co-wrote the album, one of Oldham’s best - though I didn’t know about the joint credit when I posted this review of “Wonder Show…”.

Listening to “The Corner Man”, Kelly’s first solo LP for six years – and I haven’t listened to a great deal else over the weekend - that becomes pretty obvious (“There Is Something Here”, especially, sounds like a sequel of sorts to one of my favourite Oldham songs, “That’s What Our Love Is”) . Kelly’s skills for a spare, courtly kind of music are much in evidence, but his voice is also reminiscent of Will Oldham’s. Perhaps, in fairness, it’s the shapes of the vocal melodies that seem familiar. Kelly never tries to copy Oldham’s eccentricities, and his voice is a more orthodox instrument: when the instruments totally drop out for a while on “Ill Force”, it sounds strong, true and uncannily beautiful.

I’m conscious, useful context though it might be, of examining this lovely record solely through the prism of Will Oldham. Even when I find other references worth citing – the classical acoustic guitar used in a not dissimilar way to Mark Kozelek’s work on “Admiral Fell Promises”; a forlorn soulfulness to “Gland In Gland” that recalls Liam Hayes’ Plush – it occurs that both those excellent musicians collaborated with Oldham, fleetingly.

Casting the net wider, I still find it weirdly hard to get out of Louisville: the last record I remember having a comparable atmosphere and potency was Elephant Micah’s “Louder Than Thou” right at the start of the year. Kelly has a great sense of dynamics, too, and occasionally these insidious and understated songs rear up with banked electric guitars, provided at least in part by a noted alumnus of Wilco, Leroy Bach.

At some point in the last couple of days, though, I finally found another way of looking at this fine album. I was playing “Gone Is The Light”, and it struck me that Kelly’s delicacy, the uncertain air of warmth and melancholy, had something of Chris Bell’s solo work to it. I keep meaning to dig out “I Am The Cosmos” to check.

Hopefully, anyhow, this index of possible references will have whetted a few appetites. You can check out “Now You Are One Of Us”, from “The Corner Man”, here. Give it a listen and, as ever, let me know what you think.

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