The other week, I ran an interview with Ruston Kelly on the site. One that had come from his record company and I have never spoken to the chap, but in it he said: “Sometimes you’ve gotta go into that darkness—you need to get lost and then figure out for yourself how to find your way back. That’s the only way we can find pure joy, and really be thankful for the life we’ve been given.”
Now, I feel tremendously sorry for anyone who feels like that, I hope I never do. However, I am always instinctively drawn to dark music. Not for me the summertime happiness of “California Girls”, I was always on the side of the character in Don Henley’s “Boys Of Summer” who was biding his time.
Which is why I feel a closeness with the characters in the 14 songs that make up “Dying Star”. Even if I have never experienced the lows, the drug fuelled heartbreak and the outright nightmare’s that they live, I understand the condition and, you do think that maybe if life had been different that could have been me.
And if that sounds a bit deep for an album review then I would usually agree, except these are songs that lend themselves to the confessional. How autobiographical they are only Kelly would know, but by the end of the record – rightly or wrongly – you feel like you are reading his diaries.
It is the small details. On “Cover My Tracks” – over some mournful Lap Steel – he suggests: “It took me eight years to figure out what to do…” You don’t make that up – unless you’re a genius. In which case hats off to you either way.
“Mockingbird” is a glorious acoustic strum, complete with some harmonica lead that could have come straight off a Whiskeytown album, and you could argue that Kelly is the finest troubadour to come along since.
Nothing is off limits here it seems. “Son Of A Highway Daughter” starts as an acapella song and builds from there, “Paratroopers Battlecry” is everything modern country should be, but so seldom is, but Kelly and therefore “…Star” is at its best when it does the achingly bleak. “Faceplant” is the first of three in the middle of the record that drive it forward, “Blackout” deals with its demons, and does so with some strikingly beautiful harmonies, and “Big Brown Bus” is perhaps the absolute jewel in this studded crown. Fragile, but possessed with the same stoic nature of the much missed Augustines, it is wonderful, evocative writing first and foremost, but a superb song too: “I might die on this highway,” he offers. “And part of me wishes I would….”
“Mercury” is for all those who want someone back, while “Anchors” is something a touch more modern, and “Just For The Record” reads like any bloke who wants to set the wrongs right – but can’t. And that is why these songs are so universal.
The other week I went to see Steve Earle and he suggested that his therapist had told him that he intentionally sought out women with whom his relationships were doomed to fail. “Trying To Let Her” is hewn from that cloth, almost as if Kelly is trying to remind himself to be happy (he’s married to country star Kacey Musgraves in real life), likewise “Jericho” finds some light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.
The title track brings a soul infusion – something akin to Lambchop back in the day, maybe – but oddly “Brightly Burst Into Air” – at only a minute and a half, perhaps contains the whole key to this. Almost like he’s busking, Kelly half talks the line, but it’s why “Dying Star” will strike a chord everywhere. “you don’t have to understand everything all of the time…..” meaning, even if this isn’t your life, these are your songs.
A quite brilliant record, it is up there with the very finest debuts. The title of “Dying Star” is the only thing it gets wrong. Ruston Kelly is on the rise and he burns as brightly as anyone ever has.