Indiana Album Review: Shelby Kelley – “Alone”

I live in Indianapolis.  I love Indiana rock and roll.  Hoosier albums come my way a lot; through stories and review I write  for NUVO, and through unsolicited packages.   To call much of it Mellencamp infused and influenced would be far too simplistic. But much of the really good music from Indiana does contain  “Scarecrow” and “Lonesome Jubilee” echoes, even if only faintly heard. But there is usually some Petty.  It has Seger.  I even hear R.E.M influences in a lot of it.  Oh, and add some country shit too.  Maybe Cheap Trick, but then I think any great rock band that has come of age after 1981 is influenced in some way by Cheap Trick. – it’s one of my idiosyncrasies.  Whatever.  I can’t help it.   I could go on, but the more I think about it, the more I think I may be wrong.  There are those bands, but also weird, sensational, inspired surprises that come from the best Indiana artists, hidden – or not – in their music.

shelbykelley_albumShelby Kelley is probably known best in Indianapolis as a member of Creepin’ Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra, but here steps out on his own for a raw-but-clean solo album.

With the appropriately named “Alone”, Kelley gives us an acoustic guitar-based, Americana album, featuring Kelly’s voice, guitar and occasional harmonica as the only instruments. He strips down the garage rock of his Creepin’ Charley band, and crafts an intimate-yet-rocking solo record that showcases his folk rock side

Standing somewhere between Tom Petty and Robert Earl Keen, the record proves inviting and engaging, though the lyrics, despite some good lines, are always fighting to keep up with Kelley’s terrific rhythm guitar. If you are going to make a record as simple and basic as “Alone”, listeners need both memorable melodies and meaningful lyrics. There is no crash-bam-boom drums or gritty guitar solos to provide rescue. When Kelley’s music and lyrics do connect (“Based on a True Story”, “End of It All”, “Down This Road”), listener patience is rewarded.

“I Know” opens the record in a Petty “Free Fallin’ feel, with lyrics peering, from an outsider viewpoint, into the soul of girl’s lost innocence, while “Down This Road” is a country-tinged rocker, hinting that Kelley may have some Joe Ely cassettes at home. Kelley’s hard strumming rhythm guitar makes the tune one of the best on the album. The sweet harmonica solo in the middle is all the more powerful because of the sparse use of instruments on the record.

“End Of It All ” carries the record into the rough pop-rock hooks and Springsteen themes at which Kelley excels.

Kelley’s channels Pretender-era Jackson Browne on “Wish Upon Wish”, letting his voice become the leader; his California rock sound no more evident than here.

Part of the success of the record comes from the clarity-plus-fullness sound. Recorded without much evident reverb, there’s immediacy to the sound that helps pull a listener’s ears into the album. Recorded at Stable Studios in Spencer, Indiana and engineered by Michael Osborne, the production gives the album a sound much like a Kelley live solo show.

A bit less successful is “Camelot is Burning”. Not as pop-influenced as other songs, and tougher to instantly like, Kelley and Osborne add a bit of processing to the guitar, giving the song a different feel than the rest of the songs on the album. And the breakdown before each chorus effectively builds musical tension and becomes the tunes’ hook. Similar to “Dead End Skies” later it the record, they are two of the album’s songs that take more than one or two listens to find their heart

“Based on a True Story” ends the eight-song album with a powerful flourish. Again into Robert Earl Keen/Todd Snider territory, taking his shot at the story-song “Road Goes on Forever” template, it is one that works well for Kelley.

It’s the consistent energy and in-the-room sound produced from Shelby Kelley’s gut-grabbing three-chord guitar playing that gives “Alone” the needed push. It makes the full-yet-simple guitar and vocals record worthy of a listen for fans of Americana singer-songwriters.

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