Last year I went to a voter registration benefit in Nashville. The bill included Amanda Shires (Isbell unannounced, accompanied her), Margo Price, Todd Snider, Kacey Musgraves a couple of other singer song writers and a guy named Ruston Kelly, who I was not previously familiar with. Imagine my surprise that in such exalted company the one artist I wanted to hear more from was Ruston Kelly. I was blown away and immediately went home to find any youtube clips or streams to hear more of his music. I thoroughly enjoyed his Halloween EP but I have waited with bated breath for his debut full length to be released. Well the wait is over as Kelly has delivered Dying Star, an amazing debut record courtesy of Rounder Records.
After the first couple of listens I was a little apprehensive about reviewing the record as it reads like a confessional for someone who is fresh off the battlefield of addiction and I’m sure Ruston would be offended at my interpretation of his personal struggles, but I decided to move forward with the review anyway. The first track sets the tone for what is to come. “Cover My Tracks” reminds me of Elliot Smith meets Shawn Colvin’s “Sonny Came Home”. This look at “how to get back to a place you want to be despite the obstacles you have to overcome” sets a theme that runs throughout the record. It is as strong an opening track as I have heard in a while. While the similarities have already been mentioned I think “Mockingbird” comes across like a song Ryan Adams wishes he had written. Complete with a Parker Posey reference, great vocals, harmonica and steel guitar that shows up towards the end, the song makes you realize you are listening to something special. “Faceplant” is the recounting of all the mistakes made in a relationship with a tongue in cheek apology.
“Blackout” is my favorite song on the album. Slow and deliberately paced it is a sad tale of the how love can take so much out of you that you only want to dive into the blackness and nothingness of forgetting everything. It is the moment where the songwriter has laid bare his emotions and the result is stunning. “Big Brown Bus” reminds me of Jackson Browne in only the best of ways. “Anchors” hit me like a ton of bricks and it is hard to say if I like it better than “Blackout”. That being said it is the jarring realization that the woman you love has finally given up on you and decided to move on and it is heart wrenching. The instrumentation is perfect, coupling some nice piano fills with the sublime steel guitar, played perfectly by Kelly’s dad Tim “TK” Kelly, in the background.
“Brightly Burst Into Air” ends the collection and it may be the most poignant moment on the record. Even though it clocks in at a diminutive one minute and twenty six seconds it packs a wallop. It is a dark blue achingly beautiful emotional moment of introspection and yearning, shooting off and exploding in a magnificent display. I guess it is always good to leave ‘em wanting more and that’s exactly what this song does. Dying Star is not a country album and it is not trying to be one. It is a classic singer songwriter effort that has been roughed up around the edges. The production courtesy of Jarrard K is spot on, allowing the songs to breathe on their own and never drowning them in an over the top style. Every note has its place and not one is wasted over the albums fourteen tracks. With his confessional style of songwriting coupled with a voice that can convey the emotion of the moment Kelly swung for the fences with Dying Star and connected. Get your copy here: https://www.rustonkelly.com/