Before there was Norah Jones, garnering A's and yays in Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone, there was Kelly Hogan--the brilliant singer unfettered by genre, the clever interpreter who riffles through the vinyl stacks and claims her discoveries as her own fresh invention. For 12 years she's toiled in cult anonymity, touring in the van when she's not fielding calls as a label publicist or mixing drinks as a bartender (her current gig, which ought to shut up any wannabe who insists the world isn't paying enough attention); for 12 years, ever since her beloved Jody Grind offered up its One Man's Trash is Another Man's Treasure, she's been the vocalist of choice for those of us who like singers with a hard time making a choice. That is, Hogan does it all and means it more: Randy Newman and King Curtis, Smog and George Gershwin, Charlie Rich and Burt Bacharach, Willie Nelson and Stephin Merritt, The Band and, oh, Kelly Hogan, who's outdone as a songwriter only by the singer who belts and bruises and burnishes everything she wraps her lungs around till she could make a sunrise sad.
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If only there was a way to sneak Hogan's albums into the hands of little girls made retarded by disposapop whores shilling their plastic tits for platinum tats; her voice, a slug of whiskey by a fireplace on a 20-degree day, could empower a generation of kids raised dumb and made dumber by that vapid shit filling their empty little heads. Listen only to Hogan's version of King Curtis' "Please Don't Leave Me Lonely," the best cut from her best album, last year's Because it Feel Good (it does, yes, because it feel so goddamned awful). Decades ago, girls and boys used to gather 'round their phonographs to listen to heartbreaking stuff like this--wrenching soul music, that is, back when it was rendered black and blue and strings all over by Aretha and Dusty and Etta. "Without you, I'll die," she sings as though they're already shoveling dirt on the coffin; "It's so hard living without you," Hogan adds a few cuts later, making tangible and painful Randy Newman's ancient, desolate tale of woe-is-me. Kelly Hogan makes real music; Kelly Hogan makes music real.