I have a friend James who says he likes music with harmony, but he doesn’t necessarily mean a mix of voices. For him, the idea is that all of the parts of a song have to fit together, making the whole seem better and bigger than the individual parts.
I thought of him when I first heard Reckless Kelly’s latest, Wicked Twisted Road. The disc probably falls under the alt.country umbrella, mixing rock and folk and country, stirring up a mix of roots-rock influences to create something both new and traditional.
Lyrically, the album is strong, though only one song really stands out for its poetic use of the language; musically, however, this is a tour-de-force. The band — led by brothers Willy and Cody Braun — is among the tightest of the alt.country bands, with rhythm players Jimmy McFeeley on bass and Jay Nazz on drums pushing the up-tempo songs forward and keeping the ballads under control, providing a strong frame on which the Brauns — Willy on lead vocal and guitar and Cody on fiddle — and guitarist David Abeyta can construct their musical structures.
There is not a bad song on this disc, the highlights coming fast and continuously. There is the all-out assault of “Six Gun”, a hard-driving rocker that too few bands attempt these days, the drums and guitar grinding hard and fast, Willy’s vocal hitting all the targets. And there is the laconic, ruminating “Dogtown”, with its Sunday afternoon feel, and the menacing blues of “Nobody Haunts Me Like You”, with its whip-saw guitar line, and the honky-tonk country of “Motel Cowboy Show”, all of which offer a different pleasure.
But it is the title cut and the Celtic-rock hybrid “Seven Nights in Eire” that truly shine and make this one of the best albums of any genre to come out this year. “Seven Nights in Eire” tells the story of a drunken trip to the Emerald Isle, a simple tale of fun and camaraderie told well that sweeps and soars atop fiddle and steel guitar, an irresistible mix of country, rock, and Irish folk.
My favorite cut, however, is the melancholy title song, a somewhat somber reflection on a life lived at the margins, a life of tough choices with decisions often having poor results: “My first love was an angry painful song / I wanted one so bad I went and did everything wrong / A lesson in reality would come before too long / Yeah, my first love was an angry painful song”. What makes this song so striking is the finger-picked guitar that functions as the song’s backbone. It is one of the prettiest guitar lines I’ve heard in a long time, and it underlines the purposeful repetition in the lyric, each verse opening and closing on the same line and the song closing with a repeat of the opening verse. The repetition hammers home the lesson the singer has learned, a lesson that the band carries throughout the album – closing with an instrumental reprise of the title track. The song takes my breath away each time I hear it and sets the table for the rest of the album the way a great lead-off hitter gets things started for a good baseball team.
Everything has its place, fits together — the disc hums along like a perfectly tuned sports car, not a ping or knock in its engine. That, I think, is what James means by harmony.