By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Austin-based country-rock band Reckless Kelly has been around for more than a decade and, in that time, Willy Braun and his band have made major inroads on both the alternative and mainstream country scenes. Like Steve Earle before it, Reckless Kelly straddles the line between country and rock, creating riff-laden songs with tinges of steel guitar and fiddle.
It shows too. On most nights, a Reckless Kelly concert is a hard-charging affair—which makes the release of the band's latest album, Somewhere in Time, even more of a surprise.
"The record is a little more classic country," Braun says from a tour stop in Colorado. "The songs take us back to what we used to do. I don't know if it's all that different from our other albums, other than that I didn't write any of the songs."
In fact, Somewhere in Time is a collection of songs by Pinto Bennett, an obscure but highly regarded songwriter from Idaho. Back in their youth, Willy Braun and his younger brother/bandmate Cody were exposed to the music of Bennett by their musically inclined parents. Bennett's tear-in-my-beer tales of country woe struck a chord with the Brauns—as did the elderly songwriter's prowess with mandolin and fiddle.
"I always wanted to do an album of Pinto's material," Braun says. "And, in truth, it's just real easy not to write a song."
Yet songwriting has never been a major problem for the elder Braun. Reckless Kelly's 2008 effort, Bulletproof, is considered by many to be the band's best effort. If nothing else, it sure contains many of Braun's best compositions; included on the album is the song "American Blood," a thoughtful rumination on the Iraq War. It was something of a bold move too. After the hoo-hah that brewed when the Dixie Chicks started talking politics, one would assume country acts might shy away from such subject matter.
"Well, we've never been exactly commercially successful," Braun says, with a laugh. "So we didn't think we had that much to lose."
Rather, Braun's only worry with the song was that it might have been misinterpreted as a critique of the men and women in the military, when it wasn't meant to be taken as such.
"The biggest challenge was to make sure that the soldiers didn't take it the wrong way," Braun explains. "And for the most part, they didn't. We got a great response from people in the military and from almost everyone who has heard the song."
Yet, despite the overwhelmingly positive response he's received for his own songs, Braun still jumped at the opportunity to produce a record that returns the band to its honky-tonk roots. The fact that such a return came via a cherished early influence? That, Braun says, was just icing on the cake.
"Pinto's songs fit our style perfectly," he says. "We've wanted to do this project for a long time, and the way it all came together thrilled all of us."