Originally from Los Angeles, multi-instrumentalist Emmett Kelly has over the years established a reputation as one of Chicago’s more interesting talents and collaborators. His stylish guitar playing and harmonies have appeared on several records from respected songwriters Joan of Arc, Edith Frost and most notably Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
However Kelly’s primary focus is his band, The Cairo Gang, a name he’s used for his solo projects since school (the original Cairo Gang were British spies working against the IRA in 1920). The Corner Man is his first solo album for six years and it features an intriguing array of styles that explore Kelly’s singular voice and impressive production. He’s a talented traditional songwriter, at least on the evidence of the crafted folk of Now You Are One of Us, but there is a broader sound too, particularly on Put on a Smile with it’s soaring guitars.
It all sits together in a fairly coherent way due in no small part to Kelly’s remarkable voice, managing to sound frail, plaintive and diffident all at the same time. That harmony gives the songs an inner strength and with it the sense that Kelly has found the confidence to no longer be the man in the corner.