Album Review: Josh Kelley – Georgia Clay
Between his actress wife, family ties to a country superstar du jour and pop music background, it’s easy to be a little suspicious of Josh Kelley’s stab at a career comeback via country music.
Kelley, married to Katherine Heigl and brother to Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, saw a short-lived run up the Hot Adult Top 40 chart in 2003. The singer-songwriter’s biggest hit, “Amazing,” was a neat slice of love song pie, with Kelley’s understated knack for phrasing as the cherry on top.
While the country genre has expanded in the past decade, Kelley’s attention to song construction has remained intact. Given the steel and fiddle treatment, “Amazing” would fit snugly on the singer’s new album–and, in the case of Georgia Clay, that’s actually a compliment.
Kelley must be a quick study, as many of his performances on the album sound just like other country singers on the market. Between Brad Paisley guitar riffs, Kelley makes a convincing run as a younger Darius Rucker on the cusp of reconciling his wilder days with the prospect of providing for a new family. It’s a role that works much more interestingly than anything Rucker himself has produced in his run as a country performer, thanks mostly to Kelley’s skillful mash-up of influences, tempos and vocal deliveries.
In fact, when Kelley shines, it’s hard to imagine modern country music without his contributions: Songbird Ashley Monroe makes a stellar addition to the Kelley-penned standout “A Real Good Try,” while “Gone Like That,” a co-write with Nicolle Gaylon and Clint Lagerberg, tackles lost love with a catchy Rucker-like vengeance. At once pensive and optimistic, these tunes are worth the price of the album alone, establishing Kelley as a major player in the country songwriting scene and providing the weight and foundation a genre debut requires.
However, on songs “Learning You,” “Georgia Clay,” the throwaway first single, and “Ain’t Lettin’ Go,” that ease turns into been there, heard that disinterest as Kelley morphs from Josh Gracin to brother Charles to Chuck Wicks to David Nail. Despite the songs’ mildly interesting material, these karaoke impressions don’t help to differentiate their generic brand of pop country rock.
The remaining songs found on the album fall somewhere in the middle. Kelley’s words are often tamped by the Nashville Sound 2.0, which mindlessly layers serviceable string and steel over drums and guitar. It’s easy to miss lyrical gems such as “I couldn’t see past me/til I saw you” on “Naleigh Moon,” an ode to his daughter, or the intriguing question “Is that a good memory or a great idea?” on “Great Idea.”
In a time when country music is often considered the next best genre, the pleasant aftertaste of Georgia Clay is surprisingly satisfactory. Despite brushes with the status quo, Kelley remains authentic to himself and his brand of murky acoustic/pop/country(ish) music.
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