Irene Kelley’s Benny’s TV Repair
Sterling strings dispense a patient melody as we sink into the whirlpool of mild swing that is “Bluegrass Radio,” one of eleven tracks that comprise the new album by Irene Kelley, Benny’s TV Repair. In “Bluegrass Radio,” Kelley is unguarded, surreal in her soft-spoken drawl, and available to us in a way that she had only hinted at being capable of in previous efforts. The same can be said about the gentle ballad “Highway Back To You,” which acts as a sweet segue into the latter act of Benny’s TV Repair with the same evocative tone that “Something About A Train Sound” gets the record started with. “Something About A Train Sound” tells us everything that we need to know about Irene Kelley’s current prerogative as a singer and songwriter by establishing a steady bluegrass sound skewed with definite country influences, and in every song that we encounter after it concludes, we’re provided a chance to hear this performer’s skills in a one of a kind setting. The bottom line? If you’re a bluegrass buff, this is a great LP to add to your shelf this season.
“Walk With Me Today” doesn’t have as much of a crunch as the tracks that come before it do, but it definitely brings us full-circle both lyrically and instrumentally at the record’s finish line. Harmonies don’t often get as decadent as the ones we hear in “Anything To Help You Say Goodbye” are from beginning to end, and when I first got my hands on Benny’s TV Repair, this was the track that affected me the most. It’s poetic and painful, angsty and yet full of an optimism that makes its sobering verse all the more powerful amidst the strum of the strings. “Anything To Help You Say Goodbye” is followed by a song in “The Hills Of Home” that is almost as brilliant in its expressive honesty, and along with the title track, I think it’s got the best bones for a live performance. “Faster Than Angels Could Fly” is a nice trip down a lush lyrical highway (albeit a country-hued one), and while “Out Of Arkansas” and “Cabbage Head” are a lot meatier compositionally, I don’t believe there’s a single stitch of filler to be skipped over in this LP.
When Irene Kelley is serenading us from behind the shadows of a menacing string section in “Thunderbird,” there’s no denying the impeccable talent that she’s got at this stage of her career. She’s come a long way as a musician, and in Benny’s TV Repair, I think that we get the best of her work so far. She’s still got some room to develop the finer points of her sound, but aside from a couple of surface flaws that would only be recognizable to the trained ear, I don’t know if there’s anything present in this tracklist to suggest that Kelley isn’t on a solid creative path right now. She’s got plenty of competition in the bluegrass world, but she’s holding her own like nobody’s business in Benny’s TV Repair.