While their previous outing, 2013’s Long Night Moon, had a gentle, quiet lean, Reckless Kelly balance the ballads with roots rockers on their latest, Sunset Motel, due September 23rd. Their ninth studio album finds the quintet – brothers Cody and Willy Braun, David Abeyta, Joe Miller and Jay Nazz – continuing to excel at creating music with their signature sound, centering around affecting songcraft, rousing and emotional melodies, and dynamic musicianship.
The collection, all penned by front man Willy Braun, opens with their current single, “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” and includes twelve additional tunes (with guest spots from The Mastersons, Bukka Allen and more) that are replete with themes of love, heartache, and questioning – as well as some social commentary.
The wistful feel of “Buckaroo” reflects on the demise of a relationship “It was finally the last time we reached the end of the road/and I know I could call you but I don’t know what I’d say/so I’ll just keep pretending that it’s better this way;” while the propulsive “Give It Up” centers on a man finally realizing he needs to break-away from the one who keeps wasting his time, “I’ve wasted a thousand words/I’ve wasted a thousand smiles/ I’ve wasted a thousand hellos, but I’ll only be using up one goodbye” – a theme that continues in “Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now” where patience for another to commit has run thin and he’s ready to move on, “Now I know that winning doesn’t always mean winning the race/’Cause I was on the bit and all out but you bet on another to place.”
The quintessential roots rocker, “Moment In The Sun,” with its retro harmonies, relates that all too familiar feeling of finding comfort for a moment and then somehow ending up lonelier than before; “The Champ” uses metaphors to deal with the age-old issue of who emerges victorious when there are disagreements in relationships (with maybe one giving in to keep the peace) and “Sad Songs About You” mixes anger, sorrow, false hope and self-examination,“And I don’t know why I write all these sad songs about you/’Cause I’ll have to sing ‘em somehow for the rest of my life…I don’t know why I write all these songs about you/Well I guess they just hurt a lot less than another goodbye.”
Reckless Kelly has always been adept at pairing melodies and lyrics such that a song’s emotional impact is often felt that much stronger; and while that’s found throughout the album, it’s particularly apparent on three tracks. The emotive harmonica alongside a subdued percussion evokes the melancholy on the thoughtful, complex “One More One Last Time,” “It’s hard to tell if this old uphill battle is winding down or just begun;” while on the title track, the overall serene tone conveys a human want for safety and comfort in another, fearing the destructive tendencies of loneliness. “So baby when the darkness tries to pull me back in/Keep me from going down that road again/Don’t turn me away, don’t leave me out in the cold/You know that I’ve only got one place to go/Just like the last time it won’t work out well/Don’t let me go back to the Sunset Motel;” and finally, on the achingly beautiful “Forever Today” where the longing to be with someone is immense and intense, “But I don’t wanna wait for another life to be with you/Our hearts are one but somehow they remain as two/ I’m a patient man but what if it don’t work that way/I wish you and me could start our own forever today.”
Never ones to avoid topical issues, RK nestle social commentary on two impassioned tracks, “Radio” and “Volcano 44.” The former opens with a scratchy tuning of the FM dial before diving into a driving melody and blunt lyrics about what it takes to be played on mainstream radio, “You’re underrated, but dedicated/You try to practice but you get so bored…Hey, I know I few tricks and we’ll fix it in the mix…It doesn’t take a lot of talent but no one will know;” while the latter puts the attention on the importance of not only recognizing, but taking action on climate change before “the ice all melts…we’re fish food.”
Before checking out, Sunset Motel returns to the romantic, closing with the elegant “Under Lucky Stars” which with its accompanying celestial melody finds you enveloped in a brilliantly lit sky where all that matters are the two people present, “Hold me close and breathe with me…Under the watch of Orion/Until the morning comes, to steal you.”
Over the past twenty years, Reckless Kelly has remained steadfast, staying true to themselves and the music, and in doing so, garnered a devoted fan following while earning recognition and respect….and that, undoubtedly, will ensure them at least twenty more.
Originally appeared in The Daily Country