Kelly's principal gig throughout most of his career has been as guitarist and frequent singer/songwriter for the Green Pajamas, an unexceptional '60s retro-style Seattle indie band. His solo outings, however, reveal a sensitive singer/songwriter -- in the best sense of that often pejorative term -- who recalls melancholic '60s icons such as Ray Davies and Tim Buckley without aping them. His grainy, straining voice is the very definition of a "yearning" vocalist, and well-suited to the ethereal and clouded romances he often details in his lyrics. Far more acoustic-oriented and simply produced than the Green Pajamas releases, his late-'80s cassette-only albums were among the most overlooked items in the Seattle scene, and indeed in indie rock as a whole.
In the '90s, Kelly continued to make solo releases that generally retained the strengths of his early work while embellishing the arrangements with more instruments and production sheen, with mixed results. While the first of his '90s solo albums (1992's Private Electrical Storm was again a cassette-only affair; in 1995 he issued his first widely available domestic solo CD, Ash Wednesday. This had a fuller band sound and more sophisticated production finish than his more basic cassette releases. 1997's The Rosary and the House of Jade, though a full album based loosely around the concept of an affair with a British spy and as well-produced as any of his prior solo efforts, was originally unreleased, as Kelly limited its production to 50 cassette copies given away to friends.
The Rosary and the House of Jade, however, did get released as one CD in the four-CD Australian box set Melancholy Sun, which also included three prior albums (Coffee in Nepal, Portugal, and Private Electrical Storm) that had originally been issued only on cassette. While not exactly a high-profile release, this did at least put much of Kelly's solo catalog on CD, and increased the availability of product by one of the most underexposed American indie rock talents of the '80s and '90s. There is yet another Kelly cassette-only solo album, Twenty Five, which has escaped wide distribution. It was only given to his wife Susanne (who has contributed vocals to some Kelly solo tracks) as a birthday present, and to a few other friends. Kelly has no plans to put it out in its original form, although some of the songs later appeared on releases by the Green Pajamas. Along with the highly prolific period the Pajamas entered into in the late '90s, Kelly also released Indiscretion, which melded Catholic guilt with songs inspired by painters like Balthus and James Tissot and writers such as Matthew Lewis and C.S. Lewis. (All Music Guide)