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.

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