Friday, September 11, 2020

Kelly’s Lot: “Another Sky” (2020) CD Review

Kelly’s Lot is a group I’ve been a fan of since I moved to Los Angeles more than twenty years ago. Led by powerful vocalist Kelly Zirbes, these guys are known mostly as a blues band. But they are certainly not bound to the blues, and have ventured into other musical realms from time to time, always successfully. On the group’s new album, Another Sky, they deliver some wonderful music that is more in the folk realm, with touches of country as well. This album features all original material, written or co-written by Kelly Zirbes. The band for this release is made up of Kelly Zirbes on vocals; Perry Robertson on acoustic guitar; Doug Pettibone on guitar, pedal steel, mandolin and vocals; Art Mendoza on drums and percussion; Matt McFadden on electric bass; Rob Zucca on guitar; and Bobby Orgel on organ. And there are several guests on various tracks.

The album opens with a pretty folk number titled “Butterfly,” Kelly’s vocals having a sweeter and more gentle sound than you might be used to from her. There is something friendly and warm about this song, in large part because of that vocal performance, and also because of Doug Pettibone’s work. “You are a butterfly/Soaring ‘cross another sky/Singing while we weep/Dancing while we sleep.” Paul Kenedy plays upright bass on this track. That’s followed by “I Will Find You Again.” There is something almost ethereal about Kelly’s delivery at moments near the beginning of this one. The power and strength are there, but she is reaching a different place with her voice here at times, exploring different territory. There is also a moving instrumental section in the middle of the track, and I dig that work on bass. “Years not together, the time slowly gone/But we must be willing to right what is wrong/This life before us keeps us apart/But our love is safe and lived in the heart/And I will find you again.” Aubrey Richmond, a musician I am always happy to hear, adds some beautiful work on violin on this track, and Jeri Goldenhar provides some nice backing vocals. This song was written by Kelly Zirbes and Perry Robertson.

“Foolish Try” has a delicious Latin flavor, a somewhat laid-back vibe, and features some excellent work on guitar. Kelly sings some of the lyrics in Spanish. Phil Parlapiano adds some sweet touches on accordion. I also love the line “Let’s give it the ol’ foolish try,” a play on “the old college try.” And the song ends with these wonderful lines: “Let me lie beside you ‘til the end/And hold me like you did yesterday.” What a beautiful song. It was written by Kelly Zirbes and Doug Pettibone. That’s followed by “Freedom,” which has a gorgeous and haunting sound at the start. Aubrey Richmond’s work on violin is excellent. This song has something of a classic feel. You can easily imagine hearing an old recording of Joan Baez singing this one. Yet, like all of the tracks on this album, this is a new song, written by Kelly Zirbes. “There must be an answer/We all must take a part/Or the innocent will keep/Dying in the dark.” It is a powerful song, and the song’s final couplet is striking: “There is something dark/Creeping up another heart.” Then the drum beat of “Took It Back” quickly takes us from that place the previous song left us, though this song has its own sort of dark vibe, a more personal darkness, Kelly’s vocals having an intimate quality at the beginning. This is a song dealing with domestic violence and troubles. Check out these lyrics: “You raised your hands in darkness/The bruises I would cover up/Your voice, it cut me like a knife/I couldn’t keep watching my children in a storm.” Perhaps the most depressing lines, however, are “You know, you ruined me for love/For true love down the road/All I’m good for because of you/Is a heavy load.” For they tell of a poor future in addition to a troubled past. This track includes some really good work on guitar. “Took It Back” was written by Kelly Zirbes, Perry Robertson and Doug Pettibone.

“Tangled” lifts us up from the moment it begins, with its playful, light sound. This one is performed as a duet with Doug Pettibone, and though this isn’t really a blues number, it does mention the blues: “There are moments in the blues/When you see what you must choose.” And just when you think the song can’t be any more cheerful than it is, we get a section with whistling. Oh yes, this is just the sort of song we need these days, with the repeated line “Only you can fill your cup” having a sense of empowerment and optimism. And then “The Irish Luck” has an even happier sound, which I take to immediately. I grew up listening to Irish folk (my last name is Doherty, after all), and this type of music has always worked for me. Offhand, I can’t recall Kelly’s Lot performing a song quite like this before. This one was written by Kelly Zirbes and Perry Robertson, and features Aubrey Richmond on violin, Phil Parlapiano on accordion, and Aviva Maloney on penny whistle. It is Aviva’s work especially that helps raise our spirits. “Slainte to everyone/Raise your glass and have some fun/The Irish luck will always see you through.”

The opening lines of “Simple Man” certainly seem relevant to our world these days: “I built these walls oh so tall/I didn’t think that they’d ever fall.” But this song takes place on a more personal, individual level. Check out these lines: “It ain’t been easy never being young/But he made feel/Like it’s all just begun/I’m feeling like a child/With a heart to understand.” Phil Parlapiano delivers more good work on accordion, and David Grover gives us a great bass line on upright bass. I also love Bill Johnston’s work on clarinet on this track. That’s followed by “Lock Me Up,” which has something of an early 1960s pop vibe, something I was not expecting (the sound being more in line with what Charlie Faye And The Fayettes are doing). When I saw the title “Lock Me Up,” I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be some reference, however oblique, to recent political shenanigans, but this is a sweet, fun number. It was written by Kelly Zirbes, Perry Robertson and Doug Pettibone. “You once told me I was your baby/Now you just say I’m crazy/I can’t say that it’s not true/Because I’m crazy about you.” Adorable, right? This track even has a cha-cha-cha ending.

Time continues to rush along, and the holidays will be here before we know it. Kelly’s Lot will help us make the most of Christmas with “Christmas Is Calling,” a song that features some excellent guitar work. This isn’t your typical Christmas song, for it has a more serious tone. Yet there is something uplifting about it, speaking as it does about home and family. Check out these lines: “We all should be grateful for the things we receive/And hold each other, and try to believe/Don’t go crazy tryin’ to make sense of it all/We all need each other when Christmas comes to call.” I will be adding this one to my holiday play list, a list that might be a little different this year. After all, because of the pandemic, many people won’t be able to see their families, and the holidays are going to have a different vibe. This song is about missing someone during the holidays, something a lot of people are going to be able to relate to this year. It’s going to be a cold Christmas, indeed. Kelly Zirbes’ vocal work is always impressive, and one of my favorite vocal performances on this album is that on “Sleep On It Tonight.” There is an intimacy and a yearning in the delivery. This song tells the story of a couple, and it is delivered as a duet, with Rick Monroe joining her. I really like these lines: “But time has a way of slipping by so fast/That even true love can feel/Like it will never last.” Those lines are sung by Rick Monroe. “I can’t believe we’re here tonight,” they sing together toward the end. This is a beautiful and moving song, a sweet, romantic number. Things get more bluesy on the album’s final track, “Hurricane,” which opens with the lines “I lost my passion, I lost my bliss/No bursting of joy for any of this/The chaos has started, no feeling of trust.” Those lines certainly speak to us in these uncertain days. Frank “Cisco” Hinojosa delivers some great work on harmonica on this track. “The weight of the world/Has broken me down/Can’t get up and live/Can’t make a sound.” Fortunately for us, Kelly’s Lot continues to make wonderful sounds.

CD Track List
  1. Butterfly
  2. I Will Find You Again
  3. Foolish Try
  4. Freedom
  5. Took It Back
  6. Tangled
  7. The Irish Luck
  8. Simple Man
  9. Lock Me Up
  10. Christmas Is Calling
  11. Sleep On It Tonight
  12. Hurricane
Another Sky was released on August 28, 2020.

1 comment:

  1. Every now and then an album comes along that you will listen to from the first note to the last. Sgt.Peppers, Disraeli Gears, and Tommy come to my mind and now I am adding Another Sky to that auspicious list. While every song is great (even the Xmas song and I loathe most Xmas music) the best is easily Lock Me Up. While it would appeal to anyone who likes pop music, I can see it appealing to a much broader audience, even those who follow the C&W scene. Kelly's sweet voice is backed by strong instrumentals that start strong and finishes the same way. You can sit and just listen to the clever lyrics or get up and dance across the floor. Either way, it is a great tune.