Sara Jean Kelley

REVIEW: Sara Jean Kelley “Black Snake”


Sara Jean Kelley – Black Snake EP

Vocally sublime as the fascinating Bird York (“In the Deep”) & Adele – Nashville’s Sara Jean Kelley’s forte adds moderate twang & utilizes it just right with wonderful vocal tone & control.

“Black Snake,” is good but “A Prayer for Whomever,” is powerful. “Black Snake,” is a song about being haunted, not by a ghost but by fate, destiny, life itself. Things we can’t control but follow us & we should be aware of. The black snake plays a threaded role in each song.


Her mother is award-winning bluegrass artist Irene Kelley (CD “Simple Path” is among one of her best). Daughter Sara has an equally compelling 6-song sophomore EP with Black Snake (Drops Nov 19-Independent) filled with delightful melodies & arrangements.

Nothing overbearing, bombastic, or showboating. Just well-balanced endurable songs about living, dying, transformation, rebirth, strength & resilience. In “I Am the Ocean,” Sara exemplifies how intonation & phrasing is important in how certain words are pronounced to make a song musical with words alone. This is superb balladry. Guitars flesh out the sprawling melody. Kelley’s exceptional & interesting — how she stretches notes. This is what creative songwriting & performance is.

Sara Jean Kelley

Proving Sara can rock she indulges in the aggressive “Bleeding Stone,” a spirited & driving performance. Then falls back to a more poignant “Rains In Montana.” While little is innovative, songs are well-tailored for a young woman who is indeed creative & different from the mainstream country. She isn’t quite alt-country (not as gritty, worn down as Lucinda Williams), or has the country-rock urgency of (Emmylou Harris). Sara has style. Worthy of attention.

I prefer voices that aren’t a flavor of the month. Ms. Kelley (vocals/guitar) doesn’t sound like a customary country singer. It’s obvious her repertoire (despite Nashville roots) isn’t always country-inspired. She has the ingredients to be an interesting, albeit effective alternative to pop-country.


My suggestion is to keep exploring different lyrical subjects. Base songs on real-life are fine, but they must appeal to an audience & not gravitate toward the standard country lines & issues that are recycled continuously.

Artists need to strike chords creatively as composers & performers in the realm of — Tom Waits, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, early Sheryl Crow, Leonard Cohen, Judee Sill, Dory Previn. They wrote about things & didn’t always wait for their muse or something to happen in their lives before they set it down. They had stories.

Ms. Kelley has a flirtatious vocal that has precision & grace. Songs are carefully captured, well-crafted & superb. She’s come a long way since her first 2013 EP. But, once you hit a ball out of the park the crowd wants to see you do it again, and again.

I think Sara’s suited up & ready to go.

The B&W image: courtesy of Sara/Spotify. The EP was produced by Kyle Dreaden & available @

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