WHEN Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky sat down to discuss plans for their collaboration, the conversation kept returning to two Frank Sinatra records.
They were the Chairman Of The Board's In The Wee Small Hours (1955) and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely (1958), both arranged by legendary jazz composer Nelson Riddle.
The albums are considered classics and representative of Sinatra balladry at it's most lovelorn and lonely.
Kelly and Grabowsky's album Please Leave Your Light On aims to carry the same heavy emotion. The record features nine re-interpretations of Kelly's songs, a cover of Cole Porter's Every Time We Say Goodbye, plus new track, True To You.
You won't find Kelly hits like Dumb Things or Before Too Long. As the album is simply Grabowsky's piano and Kelly's naked Australian croon, songs were chosen with clear intent.
"We wanted songs that would reward concentrated listening, so we wanted songs that were lyrically strong that had a lot of space and that would work with just piano and voice," Kelly says.
"We chose them instinctively. We're also not afraid to make the record intense. They're songs of loneliness, yearning, regret. We didn't think we were gonna have some happy songs and some sad songs and some upbeat and slow ones. We thought let's make this a ballad record. It's a mood record."
If I Could Start Today Again from Kelly's 2001 album Nothing But A Dream is far more delicate and tragic in Grabowsky's capable and tinkling hands, and Winter Coat from 1991's Comedy is reborn with a sinister edge.
"One of the reasons I love working with Paul [Grabowsky] is when he arranges the songs they give me new ideas about how to sing them, they reveal the songs in a different way," Kelly says.
The pair have been friends since working together in 1995 on the ABC series Access All Areas, filmed in Woomera, South Australia.
Both have constantly collaborated with other artists - Kelly with the likes of Charlie Owen and Linda and Vika Bull, while last year Grabowsky teamed up with Kate Ceberano.
"Paul [Kelly] is a very generous collaborator," Grabowsky says. "He's done a lot of very interesting collaborations throughout his career, but particularly in recent times, and quite daring collaborations with classical musicians and composers and really pushing the envelope as a artist.
"I felt that generosity and inquisitive spirit he has brought to this and it gives you confidence as an artist to move forward with it. That was a lovely discovery to make."
The experience of collaboration was similarly rewarding for Kelly.
"I guess what I learnt from him specifically on this record was his capability for great restraint and leaving space," Kelly says. "That was a real joy for me.
"Also his ability to choose really good bottles of red wine at the end of the day."
Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky's Please Leave Your Light On is out now.