Where to begin with Josh Kelley? Well, if you believe that playing with Dave Matthews Band gives you instantly credibility and stardom, then he’s a shoe-in. But aside from that small but important fact of supporting that rather large band, Kelley would seem to be just as comfortable in a small cozy room delivering his songs to a few dozens or a couple of hundred people. His last album, For the Ride Home, had Kelley wasting little time in the studio, cutting not 2, not 4, but all 13 vocals in one day, something that might have even caused Sun Records icon Sam Phillips to do a double take. This latest album, recorded where Nirvana happened to do Nevermind, is not that much of a musical stretch for Kelley, but it has him branching out somewhat, which is always good.
Fans of John Mayer, Gavin DeGraw, Daniel Powter, Jack Johnson, and Maroon 5 (I think that covers the gamut) would find most of this record listenable on repeated occasions. It’s light, breezy, somewhat safe, but with just enough of an edge or roughness to it to keep it interesting. A good example of this is “Walk Fast”, which has some funky touches to it with the nice harmonies and handclaps, although they give way to some polished but not too slick arrangements. It’s almost too radio-friendly for its own good, but nonetheless straddles the line between being good and being overly manufactured. The bridge showcases some of Kelley’s soulful side with better than expected results. “Only You” is more up-tempo and seems to have radio “single” written all over it in the vein of Rob Thomas. “I’m feeling it”, he sings on the opening line, but it takes the chorus for the listener to truly feel it, if they feel it at all.
It’s not all coming up daisies for Kelley, though, as “Love Is Breaking My Heart” sounds like a cross between Third Eye Blind and some flash-in-the-pan singer (choose your own favorite). Too formulaic while trying to hard to be sincere or honest, the tune just sounds like it’s been picked up from somebody else’s cutting room floor. Nothing to write home about, just the type of tune that is great on the radio but you wouldn’t remember it about an hour or four traffic lights from now. Fortunately, the melancholic is mighty when Kelley wants it to be, particularly on “Almost Honest”, which just soars despite its downbeat tone in the style of Marc Cohn and Five for Fighting. There’s a certain country hue to the track that only makes it richer and grander, and Kelley’s pipes are up to the task with the middle section being the highlight. This momentum even makes “Didn’t Hear That from Me” quite appealing with its meticulous, Elton John-like melody built around sound harmonies and a light, adult contemporary format.
Unlike other records, Kelley gets stronger with each well-crafted song, ensuring that there will be little filler on the last half. “20 Miles to Georgia” again reverts back to a warm Southern roots flare as Kelley brings acoustic guitars and a banjo into the mix. “Lover Come Up” is another poppy ditty that has a thick chorus with handclaps and an earthy groove, while “Shameless Heart” might be the closes he comes to channeling the pipes of Chris Isaak. The lone sub-par number is “Too Good to You”, which evokes images of Dave Matthews-meets-Rob Thomas on a paltry solo effort.
Looking at the writing credits, Kelley has had help from the Matrix and Joe Firstman, which is a fairly wide range of talent. His stamp is all over the album, though, making it stronger than most polished pop out there today.
// Notes from the Road
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