Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
The first thing that struck me about the Joe Kelly Song Collective’s latest album Unless and Until is is the world-weary, slightly rough-edged voices of John and Joe Kelly. They carry a melancholy in their voices that suits the overall tone of the album well. The next thing to hit me was the immediacy and clarity of the songwriting. The songs deliver a punch of honesty in their lyrics and convey the struggles, emotions, and complexities of ordinary people in a world that’s far from perfect, without skimping on the poetic imagery.
Rather than simply recording the album in a stripped-down, singer-songwriter style, the Kellys included fiddle, accordion, banjo, and steel guitar parts to back up the guitars, played by a cast of talented instrumentalists. The acoustic instruments lend an aura of continuity to the songs, as though they were meant to be permanent. That isn’t to say the songs are in any way lacking in contemporary sensibilities, it's just that they’re grounded in something deeper than the disposable music currently filling so much of the Internet.
The instrumentals themselves are handled well and tastefully fill out the sound of the recording. Everything in the recording itself is well-balanced and mixed. It foregrounds the Kellys' voices and words without letting the musicality of the instrumental parts fade into the background. I appreciate the fact that, in this day and age, they took the time to consider the recording quality of the album as an integral part of the whole process.
There’s a lot of confidence to the rhymes and imagery in the Kellys' songwriting. It’s the sign of mature songwriters that they aren’t afraid to dig into the darker side without going for clichés or imbuing things with a sense of “why me?” angst. They also manage to write love songs that are complex and nuanced, not something that’s always easy to do.
There are a few images they created with which I was especially taken such as, “These ghosts that tap me on the shoulder and whisper nothings in my ear/Keep their secrets hidden from me/On the first day of the year” or “There’s blood in the sun, and the moon has begun stripping the hours to pull my hands from your hips.” The immediacy of those lines sticks with me after I'm done listening.
There’s a melancholy and rawness to the Kellys' music that’s hard to deny. They clearly appreciates the power of words and understand how to weave them together. The album, as a whole, spoke strongly to me. I’d recommend Unless and Until to anyone who likes thoughtful songwriting backed up by nicely balanced instrumentation and appreciates music that touches on deeper truths rather than swimming in the shallows.
© 2017 Karl Magi