Old Man Kelly – Off My Lawn!
CD: 12 Songs, 42:38 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary American Roots Rock, Contemporary Acoustic Blues
Even though 2016 has come and gone, one of the funniest titles of its roots-rock milieu is Off My Lawn! by Liam “Old Man” Kelly. He himself isn’t elderly, appearing on the inside CD cover to be in his mid-fifties or sixties. Nevertheless, the grit in his expression and the white strands in his beard prove he’s no spring chicken (even though he’s holding one of those under his arm!). The “Old Man” plays contemporary acoustic roots rock and blues from his base of operations in Blacksburg, VA, echoing the sounds of days gone by with pizzazz and good-natured humor. Several songs on his latest album sound so similar they’re almost interchangeable, such as “Exitville” (reviewed below), “My Next Ex-Girlfriend” and “The Murder of Mir Imad.” Also, he often talk-sings to his listeners, but this fits his laid-back and conversational style. Anyone who enjoys ragtime and pre-war blues will appreciate Kelly’s sound, both old and new.
The “Bio” section of his website reveals more about the “Old Man’s” oeuvre: “Kelly has worked tirelessly to encourage a renaissance in music that has a history and a place – not a watered-down Americana that could exist anywhere on the Internet, nor a rigid recreation of the past, but original music that demands the listener dig deeper to find its roots in geography and time…A veteran of other recording bands (The Jugbusters, The Don’t Tell Darlings), Old Man Kelly released his first solo album, Songs, Stories, Shanties, and Shenanigans in 2013. The second album, Off My Lawn, came out in June 2016.”
Performing along with Kelly, on four covers and eight original songs, are Matt Labarge on piano and organ; Chris Printz on bass; Nathan Bowles on drums; Willis Greenstreet on clarinet; Steve Kruger on fiddle, and Jen Barton on foot percussion.
Lovers of traditional blues and roots will think the following original tracks are tops:
Track 01: “Exitville” – Everyone knows the kind of town described in the chorus of this swinging ditty: “We only come here ‘cause we have to, and we leave here when we will. Nobody ever stays here; they just stop to get their fill. But living ain’t for keeping, so clean your plate and pay your bill. Till we arrive, we’re wasting time at Exitville.” On the road, there are many such drive-thru, dead-end stops, making the locals either feel melancholy or content with life. Matthew Labarge’s jaunty piano combines with Kelly’s dry vocals to form a poignant tune.
Track 08: “Jesus is my Co-Pilot” – No, this isn’t a saccharine postmodern hymn, but a wry take on who’s really in control in our narrator’s life. “Jesus is my co-pilot; the Devil’s at the wheel, and I don’t know which of the boys has got the better deal. Jesus shouts directions, but the Devil’s on the gas, and I’m in the back seat praying we don’t crash.” Highlights here are the rolling guitar rhythm and humorous-sounding harmonica.
Track 12: “Cool Rag” – Even in the worst of circumstances – one’s impending death – one can find the funny side of the situation. Our protagonist here is an old man who needs a healing touch on his forehead from a wet washcloth held by a “red-hot mama.” Dig Willis Greenstreet’s classy clarinet and Kelly’s boisterous banjo-picking.
To those who think Americana’s for the birds, outstanding Old Man Kelly says: Off My Lawn!