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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Bicoastal Anti-Folk of Kirk Kelly at Gaslight

January 10, 1989|STEVE HOCHMAN

If the world is waiting for a male Tracy Chapman, he's not Kirk Kelly. But if New York's answer to English folk-punk troubadour Billy Bragg will do, Kelly might be the guy.

In a 35-minute set Sunday at the funky little Gaslight bar in Hollywood, Kelly never got as politically preachy as Bragg (a plus), though he also never showed Bragg's facility for melody and love songs (a minus). But he does share Bragg's forthright, witty inclinations, as well his crudely aggressive guitar strumming (which worked best for the half of the set in which the guitar was in tune).

But Kelly, who has a new album out on Los Angeles' SST records, shouldn't be written off as a mere Bragg clone. His best songs Sunday contained a distinctly New York sense of tension that at times was almost scary. Complementing those selections were a couple of traditional (at least they sounded traditional) English folk songs that gained an edge from Kelly's sharp New York accent.

Accenting the evening's bi-coastal theme (Kelly and last-nameless Lach representing the Greenwich Village "anti-folk" scene, locals Milo Binder and Marvin Etzioni representing the L.A. new--don't call it "nu"--folk scene), Kelly offered his own "California Blues"--essentially a wily update of Woody Guthrie's cynical "Do Re Mi" saga of coolin' in Cali. A promising step in the burgeoning L.A.-N.Y. folk glasnost .

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