After evolving from a somewhat archaic form of old-timey music of the back porch variety, today’s bluegrass has become a populist genre filled a crowded field of contenders. Irene Kelley, who made her entrance a few years ago, has, in the time since, emerged at the top of the pack. These Hills proves an apt title, given that these songs ring with the authenticity of genuine mountain music. As Kelley demonstrates, it’s not enough to simply replicate the style; here she invests her heart and soul into the rustic revelry espoused in such songs “Carolina Wind” and “Up In Those Blue Ridge Mountains.”
Those tracks alone would be well worth the price of admission, but when that revelry turns to reflection, as conveyed through such songs as “These Hills, “Fallin’ Anyway,” “Before You Call Me Home” and “Moonlight Is Falling,” the deeper meaning of love and longing she expresses in these verses goes to the essence of genuine emotion. Kelley has that knack for espousing sentiment in ways that seem natural and yet nuanced, invested with the kind of deeper meaning that shies away from anything perfunctory or pretentious. “Life is a precious gift/You can’t ask for any more than this,” she asserts on “Before You Call Me Home,” making it the ultimate song of gratitude and devotion.
An able cast of supporting musicians — Brian Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Claire Lynch, Dale Ann Bradley, Sharon White Skaggs and Cheryl White, among them — add support and further stir those roots with authenticity. Still, Kelley herself possesses all the credence necessary to ensure These Hills reach the highest peaks. - Lee Zimmerman Elmore Magazine