You know, at this point I’m sure many of you have noticed that most of these preludes aren’t that different from each other. I’m usually either talking about the history of the country genre, an artist’s background or in this case, discussing a band that I’m not overly familiar with.
Arguably one of the biggest names in the Texas Country scene, Austin based band Reckless Kelly is one of those names that I should know more of but just don’t. Prior to hearing their latest album, Sunset Motel, the only album I had heard of theirs was Long Night Moon which would have had a shot at being one of my favorite albums of 2016. Seriously, it’s that damn good. As a ritual for bands I don’t know a ton about, I usually listen to some of their backlog before starting my review (one of many reasons why this review is so damn late). So is Sunset Motel compared to their past material?
Really, if you’ve heard Reckless Kelly then you already know what you’re going to get in terms of the sound here. There’s plenty of fun, up-tempo songs which aren’t afraid to get darker and even somewhat scuzzy at times. On the flip side you’ll also be treated to your fair share of ballads as well. Really, in terms of balancing those two opposites, they do a great job here. I may not like the song, “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” from a lyrical standpoint, but I do like its very breezy, fun sound, especially when we get to that harmonica solo. On the other hand, you get songs like “Radio” and “Buckaroo”, the former of which is a scuzzed out rocker that I can’t wait to get into later on in this review. Meanwhile, “Buckaroo” opts for a grunge-like vibe to pretty good results. And then you have tracks like “The Champ”, “Volcano” or “Give It Up” which all also opt for that same atmospheric, rocking sound. Not much else to say here other than it works really well throughout this album.
Of course, where this album really shines is on the ballads, which make up some of my favorite tracks on this album. They’re definitely stripped back, but they also add something to them such as violin or steel guitar to really accentuate the moods of those songs. The title track is almost heartbreaking in nature. The same can be said for tracks like “Forever Today” and “Under Lucky Stars” which again opt for a melancholier tone and really do deliver on it as well. Then you have “Sad Songs About You” which has a waltz-like beat to it that’s pretty much what you expect it to be about – a man writing sad songs about a woman he can’t get over. Again, in terms of the sound, this album is definitely accessibly and very easy to enjoy.
Where this album stumbles a little bit is in the lyrics and themes. Look, none of the songwriting is outright bad. In fact, there’s moments where it’s damn brilliant. But it’s also what holds this album back as well. My least favorite song is probably “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)” mostly because it plays to the theme of a guy hoping that this girl he likes breaks up with her boyfriend. According to this guy, she doesn’t even her current lover, so why should she stay with him? Yet we never receive confirmation that this is actually true from the woman in question. Granted, it’s going for a less serious tone judging by the production on this track but still, if I’m going to blast Old Dominion for this type of song then I have to be fair. There’s also “Buckaroo” which finds a man lamenting on an old love that he had. But here’s the thing, he’s the one that ended it, not her, so what’s the overall point here? Again, I don’t want to be too hard on these guys, especially since where we have moments where they falter, they also show flashes of brilliance.
The two best tracks here by a mile are “Radio” and “Volcano”, both touching on controversial topics that I didn’t see coming. Sure, “Radio” is a protest song at its core, but it’s a protest song done right. Framed through a humorous line that pokes fun at radio still being the king of breaking artists out in 2016, this song is ridiculously great and just might even be one of my favorite songs of the year. There’s so much cleverness to this track, one that decries radio’s willingness to shove aside older artists in favor of newer ones. I can’t say enough about this song. If you don’t feel like checking out the album at least check out that song. On the other side you have “Volcano” which is a song about the public’s ignorance to the dangers of climate change of all things. It’s definitely rare to see a band cover this sort of subject and I definitely have to give credit to Reckless Kelly for touching upon the subject.
Once again, the ballads are also a high point on this album. Only this time it’s for smart, nuanced songwriting. The title track is a plea from a man (who’s overcoming addiction) to his lover to help pull him through the aftermath of the darkness, mostly because he needs her. Sure, “Forever Today” is kind of a sappy love song at its core, but it’s also got the well framed, nuanced lyricism that makes it ultimately work for me.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to be that rough on this album mostly because it is very enjoyable and well-structured as well. Yeah, some songs here don’t really feel essential to the project as a whole (something that happens with albums over eleven tracks long in my opinion), but at the same time, they’re not bad either. Like I said before, there’s enough moments on this album that really help bolster its overall quality. If you’re already a fan of Reckless Kelly you’re definitely going to love this, and if you’re new to them like I was, I still think you’d enjoy this as well. Overall, solid work guys. I’m looking forward to more.
Best Tracks: “Radio”, “Sunset Motel”, “Forever Today”, “Volcano”, “Sad Songs About You”
Worst Song: “How Can You Love Him (You Don’t Even Like Him)”