His musical story is a significant part of Robin Kelly’s story, but it far from sums up the range of his talents. Kelly is a respected New Zealand physician with a focus on holistic medicine and other related techniques, author, public speaker, and workshop presenter. His musical talents, likewise, reach far beyond the purview of merely writing song collections – Kelly recently completed the writing for his first musical stage show Chakramor, a production marrying audio and visual elements, as well as recently giving performances of a one man musical show Shamanrama exploring themes related to the deep healing process. The investment he makes in his music, particularly this fifth album, is quite unlike much we hear from singer/songwriting stylists today. Instead, Kelly brings genuine poetic worth and a mastery of folk and classic country style together in potentially timeless musical vehicles. Nothing here is filler – instead, this baker’s dozen of tracks is full of vigor and life.
Orewa Heartbeat kicks off with the song “Waiting for Me Too”. It’s an interesting way to introduce the album, particularly for newcomers to Kelly’s work, due to its largely orchestral nature. It’s never overly affected, however – instead, “Waiting for Me Too” builds the orchestrations in the music in a way to complement. “I Wanna Love You” could scarcely be more different. There’s some lovely accordion laced through the arrangement and it gives the song a soft melodic edge as it gracefully tumbles towards its conclusion. “Truthseeker (Song for Pete)” continues in a similar musical vein as the previous tune but has a more orchestral sound recalling the opener without ever going as far in that direction. His singing is somewhat reminiscent of James Taylor, but there’s a more sensitive shape to the vocal accenting the song’s dreamlike qualities. There are few outright ballads on Orewa Heartbeat, but one is the piano centered cut “I Apologize” – Kelly’s intimacy and vulnerability never feels put on, but he doesn’t solely rely on the piano to convey the song’s musical intent. The added elements introduced as the song progresses make the song even more colorful without it ever becoming overwrought.
The retro qualities of “So Easy Now” don’t sound dated; Kelly’s musical skills are obviously geared for pouring new wine into old bottles and his personality redeems any over-familiarity some listeners may experience hearing the song for the first time. Light touches of harmonica and organ push “Would It Be Enough for You?” in bluesy direction and Kelly does an excellent job of complementing that feel without ever straining for the audience’s attention. His continued love of classic country sounds continues with the track “The Tennessee Moon Beams Down (And Smiles)” and it hits the mark with its accordion touches and the ideal restraint shown by the players makes this a stylistically rich, yet substantive, experience. The final number on Orewa Heartbeat is entitled “Someone Else’s Dream” and it’s the best ballad on this album. Unlike the earlier “I Apologize”, “Someone Else’s Dream” relies on nothing else but Kelly’s singing and some beautifully lyrical piano playing., “Someone Else’s Dream” relies on nothing else but Kelly’s singing and some beautifully lyrical piano playing. It makes for an excellent last curtain on Orewa Heartbeat thanks to the eloquence of the lyrics and the emphatic nature of its sentiments. Robin Kelly’s fifth album is, arguably, his best yet and prove his artistry is showing no signs of slowing down.