Mesmerizing Misery: Kelly Hogan’s I Like To Keep Myself in Pain

Kelly Hogan isn’t a household name. But she should be. A singer’s singer, Hogan has one of those voices that can melt your heart, lift your soul and take you away. Luckily for folks that have called Chicago a way station on life’s long journey, we’ve been fortunate enough to see and hear Kelly in small, intimate venues in the city for many years (or perhaps if you weren’t too bleary-eyed you might have noticed her serving you behind the bar at the Hideout). My own fascination with Kelly Hogan and her immense talent began years ago when I heard her singing with another masterful performer, Neko Case. Since then I’ve seen her on countless occasions performing solo, with her jazz ensemble and backing Ms. Case. Most recently, she opened for the Magnetic Fields at the Vic back in March. I urged my fellow concertmates to join me to hear her sing because she was unbelievable. For my friends it was their first opportunity seeing Kelly and they were blown away by the power of her craft, and, like the dutiful musical proselytizer that I am, I reveled in adding these converts to the fold. Now, I am looking to spread the word a little further.

Hailing from the ATL (Atlanta, Georgia if you are not into that whole brevity thing), Kelly Hogan has been performing for many years in bands, solo, and collaborating with the likes of the aforementioned Neko Case, Andrew Bird, the Handsome Family, Jon Langford and various other member of the Chicago Alt-Country/Americana and Indie scene.  (Sadly she’s left Chicago for Wisconsin, but she will always be loved and remembered fondly by the Windy City.) Although she writes her own material, Kelly is best known for her work interpreting and bringing to life the lyrics and songs of other musicians much like the great Songbook Singers, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, or Nina Simone, or torch singers like Patsy Cline and Dusty Springfield. (At the Magnetic Fields show, she brought the house down (and tears to her eyes) offering her own rendition of Stephen Merritt’s gorgeously heartbreaking ironic classic, “Papa Was a Rodeo”.) And, if you are wondering, yes, Kelly’s talents warrant her inclusion among those great singers, even if her songs have never glutted the airwaves of the old U.S.A.

If you need further proof just consider this, Kelly’s newest album I Like to Feel Myself in Pain is a collection of songs penned for her by some of the finest songwriters of today including Andrew Bird, Robyn Hitchcock, Jon Langord, M.Ward, Stephin Merritt, Robbie Fulks, and the late Vic Chesnutt. To me there can be no better testament to her immense talents and power to bring a song to life, than the fact that all these brilliant musicians want her signing their words and music. Need more convincing? Well, start with the album’s title track “I Like to Feel Myself in Pain” and listen to Kelly transform the plaintive narrative of Robyn Hitchcock’s heartbroken lover into a bittersweet knife of misery and pour the gnawing emptiness and abandon from her soul into your headphones. Or, perhaps, you’ll prefer the way she makes Stephin Merritt‘s contribution, “Plant White Roses“, a resolute, unwavering and powerful ode of love without a hint of sarcasm or irony (for a Merritt penned song this is impressive). Kelly never truly wallows in any pain without finding a silver noted lining; just listen to her eschewing fortune and fame with a searing and sensual rendition of Margaret Ann Ritch’s jazzy “Pass On By”. But these songs aren’t all about heartbreak and pain (despite the album’s title), Hogan is just as deft at weaving her voice around upbeat celebratory numbers such as Jon Langford’s foot-stomping mix of Country and Blues sing-along “Haunted” or the 60s sounding pop number of John Wesley Harding’s “Sleeper Awake” (hints of Spanky and Our Gang mixed with R.E.M.). The true genius of the record is not just Kelly’s mesmerizing vocal performances, but the diversity of the material (Country, Americana, Soul, Pop, Blues, Jazz and Lounge) and her ability to offer her own unique signature to each. Oh yeah, there also some exquisite lyrics and outstanding musical accompaniment here too, an all-around solid record.

For those of you new to Kelly Hogan, I am jealous. What a joy to discover this phenomenal singer and just immerse yourself in her work and voice, so start with I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, in its entirety here.

Also, for those who can’t access Spotify, listen to Kelly discuss the record and perform some of the songs in this video or see below.

For additional information on Kelly or to purchase the record check this out.

p.s. for the non-Chicagoans, the place at which Kelly and Jon are performing is the Hideout, an aptly titled bar/musical performance space tucked into a side-street in the northern stretch of Chicago’s industrial district.  If you are visiting and want a unique and great place to stop for a drink and have an unobstructed view of the Chicago Skyline without any pretense stop here.  More info and directions here.

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