Album Review: Irene Kelley — Pennsylvania Coal

Casey L. Penn | April 21st, 2014

irenekelleyPACoalIrene Kelley lives up to her reputation as a stellar artist and songwriter with her latest, the rootsy, grassy Pennsylvania Coal. Quality should be no surprise, since Kelley has been in demand on Music Row for decades for her sweet, pure sound and sought-after writing skills, with cuts by artists including Carl Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson and Trisha Yearwood).

With this album, Kelley aims for the heart with friendly vocals and relevant material. She, along with her cowriters — the likes of Thomm Jutz, David Olney, Peter Cooper and Jon Weisberger, among others – exhibit a knack for approaching a common hook from a refreshing angle in songs such as “Feels Like Home” and “You Don’t Run Across My Mind.” The latter, co-written with Peter Cooper, forgoes the typical “who needs or even remembers you” theme for a rewarding spin that sets quite the opposite scene. It’s impossible not to empathize as Kelley croons, “You don’t run across my mind / You’re in there all the time / You don’t travel through my heart / You are not a moving part / Here and here you’ll stay / And though you’re far away / Years and years and still I find / You don’t run across my mind.”

In the title track, Kelley shares the true story of her plucky grandparents – Polish immigrants who toughed it out in the coal mines of Crabtree, Pennsylvania, to make a start for the family that would follow them. She continues to share memorable stories of life in the fast-paced “Rattlesnake Rattler,” the poignant “Sister’s Heart,” “Angels Around Her,” and “Garden of Dreams,.” A highlight for traditional bluegrassers will be the gospel-esque bonus track, “You Are Mine,” written and performed in tight, three-part harmony by Kelley and her daughters Justyna and Sara Jean.

Kelley has been a kindred, honeydew voice to bluegrass, Americana and country audiences for many years. This album makes perfect sense, especially for the former two camps.

4 Stars

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