Kelly Hogan - "We Can't Have Nice Things" (I Like to Keep Myself in Pain)
Like Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me, Kelly Hogan’s I Like to Keep Myself in Pain is a soulful, contemporary take on American roots music, one from a seasoned singer whose voice is strong enough to call forth a host of excellent songwriters and session players to supply material. (The list includes Andrew Bird, Vic Chestnutt, M. Ward, and Robyn Hitchcock, to note just a few big writers; Booker T. Jones leads the pack of studio hands). The melodies are sweet and languorous and the organ lines are strong and steady. Back from her long recording hiatus, Hogan is in complete command.
Whether she’s cutting through a wistful church organ number such as “The Green Willow Valley,” gently prancing through vibes-inflected nightclub fare like “Slumber’s Sympathy,” or sneering with authority on the addictive rocker “Haunted,” Hogan is at full force. Although her versatility is vivid, the result is not a hodgepodge of disparate threads. Hogan seamlessly blends the many styles in which she works to produce a distinctive sound that is warm and wise.
As deeply rooted in American tradition as that sound is, it is never straightjacketed by nostalgia. A biting tale of interpersonal turmoil told through references to commodity relations heavily laden with meaning, “We Can’t Have Nice Things” is both topical and timeless. “The phone must not be working ‘cause you haven’t called me yet / The chair that I wake up in has been burned by cigarettes / I tell myself it’s only smoke that suffocates and clings / And I guess we just can’t have nice things.” Compare this with the jubilant, “ooh wah” pop number “Sleeper Awake,” which would be equally plausible as a rendition of canonized Carole King or a contemporary cult classic from Belle and Sebastian.
“I wanna hear your voice, comin’ out of my radio / And I wanna see your face on the billboard sign / ‘Cause I know how hard you try / And I know sometimes it makes you cry / I just wish I could be there to bring you by,” Hogan signs on “Golden.” She delivers those lines as deftly as any others, but they’re words that should be sung as much for her as by her.