Like many of us, Ruston Kelly’s gone through some real difficult times. For him, it’s addiction, mental health challenges, and addressing the underlying causes of both. It isn’t easy, but Kelly is working through it and has put that work at the forefront of his art.
On Shape & Destroy, his latest album, Kelly shows that there’s a way forward for everyone. For Kelly, that healing path is filled with moments of grace, catharsis, and the simple pleasures that give a life meaning and depth.
Those moments are laid out in the album’s third song, “Alive.” They’re found at home with his wife, Kacey Musgraves. (The album was recorded before Kelly and Musgraves announced their split in July.) Kelly sings, “You’re cooking something in the house / Singing John Prine / What a beautiful thing / To be alive,” later adding, “it’s all because of you.”
Part of Kelly’s personal recovery and redemption can be found in the relationships he writes and sings about on tracks like “Alive” and “Changes.” Other times, that resolve has to come from within. On the achingly beautiful “Brave,” Kelly notes that he’s “already lost some years to addiction and the fear,” but pleads that he:
Every promise that I made
That I tried my best
Never took more than I gave
And I didn’t give up to the darkness
I fought with all my might
And I never took for granted
All the love in my life.
It’s an acknowledgement that he’s more than his demons and the mistakes he’s made and that they can be overcome. They’re not a permanent reflection of who Kelly is, who he can be, and what’s in his heart. What’s most important and what must remain in focus is that he do right by himself and those that he cares about most.
And it’s that message that resonates throughout Shape & Destroy. Addiction, depression, or whatever strife you’re facing can bring you down and have you feeling unfathomably low. You may ask yourself if you’re capable of recovering. On the chorus of “Rubber,” Kelly asks himself that very question: “Can I bounce back? Oh, or just lay flat?”
On Shape & Destroy, Kelly answers yes: Yes, he can bounce back, and the album’s closer provides the proof of it. “Hallelujah Anyway” strikes notes of hope and beauty, with Kelly reminding himself and listeners that life and love are always present, even if you don’t see or want to see them. You just have to find the strength and wherewithal to acknowledge them.
It’s easy to feel bogged down in the mire of your struggles, especially right now during uncertain, unstable times. We could all do well to hear and absorb Kelly’s words.