There’s a pleasant gallop to the first few bars of Irene Kelley’s “The Hills Of Home” that is vaguely familiar and yet totally unrecycled in the modern country lexicon. It’s a hesitant tempo that we find in a few different songs on her new record Benny’s TV Repair, which is out now everywhere country and bluegrass music is sold and streamed, but in this particular track, it’s principally seductive. If Kelley isn’t bringing her A-game to this latest record, I can’t really imagine what her best sound would be like, because this LP definitely contains a handful of the most sincere songs I’ve heard from an artist in her scene this year. It’s an album meant for diehard fans more than it is the casual passerby, but in all honesty, there’s not a thing wrong with that at all.
I thought that “Anything To Help You Say Goodbye,” “Faster Than Angels Could Fly,” “Cabbage Head” and “Thunderbird” were rather surreal from a lyrical perspective, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that most of the material on Benny’s TV Repair is enigmatic. Actually, this is by and large a straight-up commentary in certain songs – particularly “Out Of Arkansas” and the title track – and Kelley makes a point of keeping the overreaching poetry on the sidelines from beginning to end. There’s certainly more than enough cryptic crooners in the country genre these days, and whether she’s trying to set herself apart from that crowd or not, it’s exactly what she’s doing in this record.
“Cabbage Head” and “Something About A Train Sound” seemed really improvisational to me when I heard Benny’s TV Repair for the first time, but after some closer analysis, I’m not sure which of these tracks were born of a jam session and which were penned in an intimate moment far from the eyes of others. I think that Kelley has an interesting way of appealing to her listeners through both her harmonies and the lyrics that they carry forth, and while she never leans on one method of communication over another for too long, this is probably her most complicated group of songs so far. She’s coming into a new chapter of her career head-on, which is definitely something worth commending.
I had heard a couple of Irene Kelley’s albums before now (Pennsylvania Coal and These Hills, which were released in 2014 and 2016), but I don’t believe that I was able to recognize how talented she is before hearing Benny’s TV Repair just this past weekend. She’s grown so much since Pennsylvania Coal that it’s valid to debate whether or not she’s more of a country singer at this point than she is a bluegrass musician, but regardless of what anyone decides to brand her, I think she’s doing some really incredible work on this album that her long-term fans are going to be happy to hear. It might not be the most progressive LP of its kind out in 2019, but for who it was meant to serve, I seriously recommend checking out Benny’s TV Repair.