Jo-Ann Kelly January 05, 1944 – October 21, 1990 Part 2

In 1968, Kelly cut four tracks for the compilation “Me and the Devil” and recorded another three for “I Asked For Water, She Gave Me Gasoline” in 1969.

Kelly had a perfect foil in McPhee, their sensibilities meshing perfectly.

Her vocal range was showcased by her going toe to toe with Bob Hall’s percussive piano playing on one track and then standing all alone on an abbreviated acapella version of Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘Rising Sun, Shine On’ (titled here as ‘Same Thing on My Mind’)

The second compilation opens with another Kelly / McPhee duet, this time taking on the traditional ‘O Death’ (using the Bertha Lee, Charley Patton version as it’s template).

Kelly also sings lead vocal on two other numbers: The Groundhogs’ cover of ‘Rock Me’ (with McPhee’s solo a highlight) and Brett Marvin and The Thunderbolts “doing” ‘Dust My Blues’.

The first proves to be the most successful early pairing of Kelly with a full band; the second not so much.

1969 also saw the release of Kelly’s self-titled major label debut.  (reissued in England on CD by BGO in 1999).

Although originally released on Epic (a CBS subsidiary) the recordings were made at various venues across England and then sold to CBS.

What is lost in “polish” that could have been provided in a studio setting, i.e. second takes, overdubs, the possibility of bringing in another musician or two on a few numbers to provide some variation in the sound, is more than made up for by the primacy of the final result.

As there is no hint of an audience, the lack of ambiance can make Kelly’s guitar and vocal seem oddly “airless”, the endings too abrupt.

Yet there are moments where the unfinished quality of the recordings make you feel as if you are eavesdropping, suddenly privy to another’s thoughts.

This feeling of violating someone’s private space is most strongly felt listening to the final track, a beautiful rendition of Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’.

Kelly’s slide playing and vocal recreate the ethereal spirit of the original bringing an almost startling intimacy to the song, making one feel almost embarrassed to have shared something so personal with a person you hardly know.

I will review this LP and other recordings by Jo-Ann Kelly in the weeks and months ahead.  In the meantime, I highly recommend getting to know this extraordinary artist who was taken from us far too soon.

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