Friday, September 7, 2012

Album Review: "Brighter Than The Blues" by Kelley McRae

The road was good to Kelley McRae.
Mississippi native and recent Brooklyn resident Kelley McRae and her husband/guitarist Matt Castelein left the security of jobs and apartment in February 2011 and embarked on the “Great VW Camper Van Tour”, criss-crossing the country performing in venues of all shapes and sizes, including many, many house shows, where Kelley and Matt would perform in a living room, a hallway, out on a deck, or wherever the host provided space for the performers and a gathering of friends.  After over 150 shows and 35,000 miles logged in their VW camper van, Kelley and Matt settled for a while in Tennessee to write and record a new album, with songs inspired by their travels across the country.

Yes, the road was good to Kelley, as an inspiration for this collection of songs, and as a way to practice and perfect her art.  Kelley’s new album, “Brighter Than The Blues” is beautiful.  Kelley’s vocals are stronger than ever before, and the musicality is tremendous.  Following her earlier albums “Never Be” and “Highrises in Brooklyn”, “Brighter Than The Blues” features eleven new songs written and performed by Kelley and Matt.  Their travels and experiences over the past year, and the closeness they felt as they toured together, all come through in this amazing collection of songs.
Kelley has long been a gifted songwriter.  “Sparrow”, “Time”, and “More of Nothin’” from her previous releases highlight her songwriting talent.  “Johnny Cash”, from her debut album “Never Be”, is as fine a song as anyone has written, ever.  Let me mention it here, in the same sentence as “Mona Lisa” and “Summer Wind”.  It’s *that* good.  The songs on “Brighter Than The Blues” are as strong as ever, and show that she continues to grow as a songwriter.  These songs are heartfelt, moving, and deeply intimate.  Kelley does not write superficial or fluffy.  Her songs come from deep within the heart of a true artist.
The arrangements, guitar accompaniment, and vocal performances on “Brighter Than The Blues” show Kelley’s true growth as a musician.  Her singing shows amazing strength and maturity, finely honed from her time on road.  The performances are rich and full, enveloping the listener, surrounding you and drawing you into an incredible musical experience.
The title song, “Brighter Than The Blues” opens the album and immediately sets the stage for the record with a superbly strong vocal performance and reminiscences of their long time on the road and their closeness as a couple.  These themes are revisited throughout the record, from the haunting melody of “Keeper of the Light” to the personal “When the Evening Comes”.  My favorite song is “25,000 Miles”, about the trials and tribulations and joys and stresses and growth that came from their tour.  In this one song, Kelley masterfully gives us a glimpse of their experiences.  In retrospect, what a glorious artistic journey this must have been.
Performing so many shows in such intimate venues has truly fostered Kelley’s growth as a musician.  On her website, Kelley says “I really wanted to capture the spirit of the live show” when creating “Brighter Than The Blues”.  As a house-show host who got to hear Kelley and Matt perform from about three feet away, I can attest that she succeeded.  Her new album has all the energy and warmth of a living room show.  By the way, let me tell you, Kelley and Matt performing in your living room is really cool.
“Brighter Than The Blues” is an amazing recording by a truly gifted singer/songwriter.  And, although Kelley is the name on the record, let me give a shout-out to Matt, whose vocal harmonies and excellent guitar work bring completion to this collection of songs.
If you hurry (by September 15, 2012) you can get a free download of “Brighter Than The Blues”!  Details are on Kelley’s website.  But wait, there’s more – join Kelley’s mailing list and you’ll get a free download of “Johnny Cash”.   It’s worth it, believe me.
I was a backer of the production of “Brighter Than The Blues” on Kickstarter, receiving a pre-release copy of the CD and a darned cool T-Shirt for my contributions to the album production.  No other compensation was received.

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