Benny's TV Repair – 2019 (Mountain Fever)
Review by John Lupton
There's a well-worn adage that goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But in a "throwaway" age where even big screen TVs head for the landfills at the first sign of breakdown, it's hard to recall, if you're old enough to recall it at all, that it used to be you could take the old Philco down to a shop like the one Irene Kelley's dad ran in her hometown of Latrobe, Pa., get a few tubes swapped out and have it back in time for the Steelers game, good as new. Nostalgia can be a double-edged sword, but it's that sense of a time gone by (captured beautifully in the title track) when people had the time - and the knowledge and talent - to bring things back to life that permeates throughout. It's an essence that can be heard in "Something About A Train Sound," "Bluegrass Radio," "Highway Back To You" and several - well, most of the 11 tracks, all co-written by Kelley.
And Kelley is no newcomer to the scene. She's been an in-demand writer in Nashville for more than 30 years, with songs recorded by people with names like Yearwood, Lynn, Jackson and Skaggs. Her success in the mainstream country business notwithstanding, she's a bluegrasser at heart, and her strong, clear-as-a-bell voice is tailor-made for the genre. It's almost a truism to say that Music Row is full of writers and singers who are more talented than the stars who fill the arenas, but Kelley's talent goes a lot deeper and wider than songs about beer and trucks, and from beginning to end, this is a tour de force for her.
It's also said (here at least) that you can tell a lot about an artist by looking at the liner notes to see who they can get to record with them. It's an impressive cast. But when your core studio band features top-rank talents like Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Adam Steffey, Matt Menefee and Mark Fain, it speaks volumes about the regard that Kelley's peers have for her. People this good don't sit in with just anybody. The end result is one of the most satisfying bluegrass albums to come down the pike in a while.