Reckless Kelly are so perfect that if they didn’t exist, some record company would invent them. Early 20s, fine players, soap opera attractive, terrific lead singer, excellent sense of song structure, hooks galore and very commercial country-rock sound. Ready for Nashville right now, but just “alt” enough to seem cool.
At their best, as on a standout cut such as “Black and White”, a wistful, bluegrass-influenced number with a tasty fiddle break, you can certainly see why these central Oregonians have been creating such a stir in their newly adopted hometown of Austin, where the locals know a thing or two about country music. And they can rock out convincingly, too, as they do here particularly well on “Baby’s Gone”.
So why does Reckless Kelly’s debut do so little for me? It’s not the fact that the songs all seem completely derivative, although these boys clearly spent a lot of time listening to Steve Earle’s I Feel Alright. It’s not even that there are no rough edges, which doesn’t seem like a great way to go if your heroes are people like Mr. Earle. And it’s not the bad lyrics either. I accept that not everybody can be Joe Henry or Freedy Johnston and that we music lovers have to put with a certain amount of the “Never doubt that my love is true because I’d do anything to be with you” cliches Millican is chock full of.
My problem is that I sense no emotional honesty here. While virtually every song is about being dumped, singer Willy Braun never sounds even mildly heartbroken. You get the feeling Willy and his guitar playing brother Cody write these songs because that’s what a country-rock band is supposed to write songs about.
The album’s second track, “Back Around”, starts with this: “I wish I was a vampire so I could stay out all night long/I wish I was Bob Dylan so I could write a bunch of hit songs.” Dylan recently told The New York Times, “I’ve got to know that I’m saying something with truth to it.” Once Reckless Kelly figure out what he means by that, they could become a lot more than they are right now.