[10 December 2013]
Reckless Kelly’s eighth studio album is a classic road record. Nearly all of the songs on Long Night Moon are about traveling, or saying goodbye before hitting the road. These sorts of songs should, logically, be worn out and boring after the decades. But people never seem to get sick of love songs, and bands never seem to get sick of writing road songs. Also, Reckless Kelly’s songwriter and lead singer, Willy Braun, has a rich, soulful voice and a lyrical point of view that’s equal parts self-deprecating and introspective. That helps a lot.
The album opens with “Long Night Moon”, a dark and sparsely arranged song that evokes late night drives down empty highways. Braun’s lyrics about getting out of the city and going home aren’t particularly excellent, but his delivery matches up perfectly with the music. Low piano chords, arco bass, and light, tom-oriented drumming set the stage perfectly for the simple acoustic guitar riff and the extended electric solo that closes out the song. It’s a hell of an opener, and the band has difficulty coming up with anything as distinctive until near the end of the record.
Just because what follows “Long Night Moon” is more typical roots-rock songwriting doesn’t mean it isn’t quality material. “Real Cool Hand” is a solid mid-tempo rocker about a woman who subtly controls the relationship, while “Irish Goodbye” is a fiddle and lap steel guitar-driven ballad about leaving without actually saying goodbye. The clever “Be My Friend (In Real Life)” is the true standout in the middle of the album. The song is driven by the refrain “Put down your devices and live your life / Won’t you be my friend in real life?” This plea comes across not as whiny, but as an honest call for human interaction. As a band working in bars and clubs across North America, seeing the audience from behind their cell phones probably gets old night after night.
While most of Long Night Moon is strong, Reckless Kelly occasionally falls into pedestrian country-rock. “The Girl I Knew” is pleasant but completely unremarkable musically, and the lyrics about a girl who constantly claims to be a changed woman but is constantly lying isn’t particularly compelling. “I Can’t Stand It” sounds almost exactly the same as “Be My Friend (In Real Life)” without the clever lyrical conceit.
The record gets back on track with “Didn’t Mean to Break Your Heart”, which finds the band pulling out the old harmonica-plus-acoustic guitar trope. But it’s a perfectly placed sonic change of pace song that is very welcome at that point on the album, and leads nicely into the closing trilogy of songs. This trilogy begins with “The Only Home I’ve Ever Known”, a gently rolling country song with a nicely played background duet between fiddle and distorted slide guitar. As the song comes to a close, it fades smoothly back into the instrumental “Long Night Moon (Reprise)”, which lasts for about a minute. And as the reprise fades away, the acoustic guitar riff slides right into closer “Idaho”. The three songs flow seamlessly, and “Idaho” manages to recall “Long Night Moon” without being a pale imitation. Lyrically, Braun talks about arriving back home in Idaho. One presumes this is where he was heading in “Long Night Moon”, and it provides a nice, quiet bookend to the album.
Despite a couple of middling songs, the good stuff on Long Night Moon is very good indeed. Reckless Kelly are clearly comfortable with themselves, which means they aren’t pushing any genre boundaries here but are focused on writing strong material. In the 20th century the music they play would likely be referred to as “country.” But their website and press materials studiously avoid using that term. It’s interesting to see how bands in the 21st century who are influenced by classic country music all seem to gravitate towards terms like “Americana” and “roots rock.” Perhaps they are seeking out a completely different audience than their brethren in the pop, arena rock, and “Yee haw, redneck life is awesome!”-oriented mainstream country genre. But their avoidance of the term is interesting.