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Alan Cackett (review): Irene Kelley – “These Hills”

Irene Kelley is one of those singer-songwriters who seems to drift in and out of my musical life. It was as a writer for Trisha Yearwood, Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs & Sharon White, Rhonda Vincent, Alan Jackson and Claire Lynch that I first came across this unassuming lady. Shortly after, Irene released a couple of excellent singles on MCA, but it was another ten years before SIMPLE PATH, her debut album, reconnected me with this talented singer-songwriter. Since then she has released a further three albums, each one a rare and delicate musical treasure trove. This latest one is a natural progression for a singer-songwriter who has traversed life’s joys and troubles with fortitude and optimism and unfurls her tales of that life with gentle passion.

The songs, all written or co-written by Irene, veer nimbly between country ballads and straight-up bluegrass, dark Appalachia and intimately arranged folk. She delivers her fine-edged songs with a crystal clear voice cut with wild defiant sorrow. Infused with the lush harmonies that are in keeping with the roots of bluegrass, the tracks feature fresh, progressive instrumentation and free-wheeling lyrics that resonate with the subject matter which is both new and timeless. Testimony to Irene’s musical standing, she’s attracted an A-list of acoustic session musicians and singers including Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Adam Steffey (mandolin), Brian Sutton (guitar), Scott Vestal (banjo), Randy Kohrs (resophonic guitar), Mark Fain (bass) with exquisite vocal harmonies provided by Claire Lynch, Ronnie Bowman, Sharon White Skaggs, Cheryl White, Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley, as well as Irene’s own daughters, Justyna and Sara Jean. Read More!


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