Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ryan Kelly's "Life" Album -- An Open Letter and Rambling Review

Dear Ryan Kelly,

Normally, I'd write a straight review here. "These are the songs I loved, these are the songs I think are okay, and these are the ones I don't like much." I would make a valiant, but ultimately failing, attempt at being impartial, and I would pretend I was writing for an impersonal magazine. But, your album "Life" is a personal one, and I don't think I can offer a review with anything less.

The years that have passed since your first album have been tumultuous ones and I awaited the release of Life with equal parts of interest and trepidation. How would those experiences play out? How would your style have changed from In Time? What would be the outcome? The backlash? Would I like it?

And I do.

Straight off, From the Very Front Row and Where I Belong are great songs. I could happily listen to those two on repeat for quite some time. I'm a country music fan, and I like the accent of country that both of those songs embody. It's appealing, but not overpowering.  An Irish Keith Urban sort of thing going on? My thanks to your harmonica player. That guy makes me HAPPY. From the Very Front Row flows together really well, and it feels like I've been invited into your life to walk the musical journey with you -- as I suppose we all have! It parallels beautifully with the openness you have with your fanbase. But, I really love Where I Belong. The music is very catchy and I just love the feel of it. I've never lived in a community like you do, but hearing about it brings a smile to my face and I'm glad that your home is that for you. You make it sound very appealing.

I'm also a big fan of Live for Life. I love the African feel and the triumphant message of survival and hope. It's great to listen to, and a superb choice to end the album. However, you do get a little yell-y. I've come around (mostly) on Samba. I've always felt that it sits just outside the themes of the album (and I still do), but I do think that it's a very cool song. The Spanish rhythms fit you well and are the perfect opportunity for you to show off your sultrier side. I've heard a boatload of requests for you to perform that song in leather. But, I'm willing to budge on that. I don't think your best assets lie in your pants.

If you looked through my music collection at my non-Celtic Thunder favorites, you'd find that I've gravitated strongly in recent years to sort of emotionally thick music. I like music that makes me feel something, where I can really connect to the lyrics. If I can connect emotionally to a song, I will forgive it a lot. I didn't necessarily adore Your Time and Significant at first until I used them as the soundtrack for a run for the first time. It was the first time I'd cleared everything away and really listened to the lyrics. After that, I was sold. I really do love Your Time, such a pretty song. I love the comfort that comes with the thought that we don't have to walk through our hard things alone, that someone sees us, that someone is willing to be there. Having walked through bouts of depression in the past, and sometimes I still do, the lyrics to the verses really strike a chord with me. But, Significant touches me a lot, too. I find a lot of inspiration and meaning in this idea that we are so often pushed to one negative extreme before we learn the lesson it holds for us. What if we didn't do that?  It's a lovely song...  but the chorus perplexes me just a bit.

Runnin' Over Bridges is one that I struggled with for weeks. I kept hearing it through a particular lens, and could never reconcile all the parts together to make sense - so I couldn't like it. -- Until a friend suggested, "Have you thought about it as him running from himself?" That made sense, and it made the song's spiritual feel connect so much better for me. I can relate to the idea of running away from who you were to who you are becoming.  I mean, I don't know if that's what you meant.  But, that's what I'm going with from here on out.  The piano is very pretty... though there are parts that I want to throw a shoe at the piano for the same reasons I want to throw one at Rihanna during "Stay."

2011 was kind of a shit year. I'm not going to lie, Poison from Afar is an emotionally difficult song to listen to, but I can't critique it. I just can't. I understand why you needed to write it, why you needed to put it on the album. I understand keenly the healing that comes through writing, and no one should have to bear that kind of pain alone. I can only hope that writing it and publishing it accomplished what you needed it to accomplish. I'm sorry with all my heart for what you went through and pray often that time has softened what hell has wrought.

American Dream is one that I do like the driving feel of the music, which makes it an interesting song to listen to.  But, is it some national requirement that every Irishman has to write a song about moving to America? Stay home! (I mean... come sing for me here.  THEN stay home.) I'm glad that you recorded a pure version of And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. There's a truck going through the Live Sessions version you did for Celtic Thunder's channel a few years ago, and it freaks my dog out every time. The acappella opening verse of your rendition is beautiful and haunting. Really. But I will admit that I curse at you a lot when I say "I'll run for one more song" and this is the one that comes up. I swear the verse count triples.

These last three tracks are the ones I really don't listen to much. To Someone You're the World is a sweet love song, and I like the guitar on it. But, it was the one track on the album that felt "already done" to me, and it just isn't one that I return to very often. I don't really have a ton to say about Messages. I don't have anything against it, but I don't love it either. Consider me ambivalent. I'll usually listen to it if it comes up on Shuffle, but I'm not terribly likely to seek it out either. Probably the song that I like the least is the cover of Deadwood, South Dakota. I mentioned earlier that I really like songs that I can connect to... and I just don't connect with this one at all, and it gets skipped more often than not.

Overall? I like this album a great deal. I was pleased at the variety -- in musical style, yes.  But especially in emotional content. In Time was pretty heavy, and while I liked that album too, I think that the variety on Life points to greater maturity, both musically and personally.  In the end, there is great hope embodied in this music. And after the last few years, that is a beautiful thing to be able to end with.

I look forward to Album #3. And if you tell me "soon," I'm unfollowing you. :)

Yours Truly,


"Life" can be purchased here at CD Baby.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Running Away

I ran away for a long time. I was hurt and I was scared. I couldn't stand to feel the same way that I had, and so I ran away.  I ran away and I hid.

I built walls around my hiding place. I camouflaged its entrance. I erected watchtowers and traps that would ensnare anyone who tried to enter. And when I was sure that I was safe, I breathed a sigh of relief, locked the door, and turned to my fortress.

And it was only then, when I was faced with my own loneliness and my own solitude... it was only then that I began to understand. It wasn't you that I was running from. It wasn't you at all.

It was me.

You can't run from yourself.  You're always there. And in that lonely hall of mirrors, you have no choice but to face your demons and fight your battles. And you do.  You do it because you must.

But, do you know what I learned there in that fortress of my own making?

Battles are easier to fight when you're not alone. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

When They Make You Feel Small

I had an experience last week where I had a conversation with someone who always comes across as very condescending.  I hate that just about more than anything. To be talked down to is not a nice place to be. And as the evening wore on, I found myself more and more furious at the situation, at the person.

As I thought about that, I sort of began to realize that I wasn't angry over the words that were said. I was angry over the way they were said. I was angry because the person made me feel small. They made me feel like they thought I was stupid. They made me feel like less than I am. Like I don't know what I want, or what's good for me.

I couldn't do anything about the other person. But, I could do something about me.

Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with the saying, 
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
If you don't let someone else's words matter to you, they lose their power over you. They lose their ability to control how you feel, how you see yourself.

So, I took a breath (after I vented at everyone I knew). I thought about all the things that I knew to be true. And I remembered who I was.

Suddenly, I didn't feel small anymore. I didn't feel less-than. I felt like me... in all the beautiful ways I get to be me.

And it was good.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thursday Tales: The House on the Hill

There was a house on the hill, they said. A little house, nothing much to speak of.  But, if you walked up the path, you would come to its door.

If you knocked on the door, no one would answer. But, rest assured, they said.  Rest assured, she would be there.

If the door was unlocked, you would find yourself in a quaint little room. Old furniture. Old dishes. Old dust. The pictures on the wall were greying with age. The paint peeling from the walls.

If you were quiet, oh so quiet, and you slipped up the stairs, you would find her in the second room. Hair wild and unkept, eyes full of sadness, but a beauty nonetheless.  She would be sitting at the window, watching.  For what? No one really knew. But, she would be watching.

She wouldn't speak.  She never did.  But, she would know you were there, and her eyes always said more than any words ever could have.  So, you would sit and your eyes would grow wet with the unshed tears of hers. She was like that. You wanted to feel what she couldn't walk away from.

When evening came, she would forget you were there. She would rise from her window, and she would descend her stairs. She would open the front door and she would step out into the moonlight.

And she would sing. Not for you... no, never for you. She sang for herself. She sang for the wind. She sang for the moon.

But, you would cry all the same.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Play Your Music

Play your music, my friends. Paint your own sky. March to your own drummer. Indulge in the things that fill you with joy.

Our lives are short and our worlds are filled with those who tell us that what we are doing, what we are loving, what we are thinking is wrong.  That we shouldn't be doing those things, that we shouldn't be loving those things, that we shouldn't be thinking those things.

It can take so much energy to just be the person you really are. To be yourself unapologetically.

But, being ourselves unapologetically... surely this is who we were meant to be. I mean, as long as being who we are isn't hurting anyone else, surely that's who we were meant to be.

Maybe we could stop pretending to be people that we're not. Maybe we could stop pretending to like the things that everyone else is liking just to fit in. Or maybe we could stop pretending to not like the things we love just because someone might look down on us. Surely that says more about them than it does about us if they do.

Play your music.  Play it loud. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

99 Problems: The Life of a Chronic Overthinker

Are you an overthinker? I most definitely am.

It starts innocently enough. Maybe a friend doesn't respond to something. And it begins with an innocent wondering thought. "I wonder why they didn't answer that."

But then, the thoughts keep going.

"I wonder if I did something to make them upset. I bet it was that one thing I said yesterday. They're mad about that.  Well, I can't believe they're mad about that, it was an innocent comment and I didn't mean anything by it!  They're totally not being fair. They should know me better than that."

To make matters worse, I am a chronic conversation imagine-er. My kids are constantly telling me to "stop thinking" because I am having actual complete conversations in my head, with the facial expressions to go with them.

"Why are you mad about what I said the other day?" The imaginary conversation ensues.
"That hurt my feelings and I can't believe you would be so insensitive."
"I wasn't being insensitive! That wasn't the way that I meant it at all..."
"You're such a jerk... I don't think I even want to be friends with you at all anymore."

And then I start to cry. Yes. Actual. Crying. Because I am an insane person.  In the space of five minutes, I have somehow gotten from "I wonder why they didn't respond" to "They hate me and never want to speak to me again."  Please note that, while this is all going in my head, the other person has no idea that I'm even bothered by anything, and certainly has no idea that I'm sitting on my bathroom floor, crying over the demise of our friendship.

When really the answer to "I wonder why they didn't respond" was "What? My phone died and I didn't even know you said anything. I'm sorry!"

Crazy Times in My Head.
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