These are very good times for Reckless Kelly. With the release of Bulletproof in 2008, the Austin-based roots-rockers known for the integrity of their musical approach, the hard-core energy of their live shows and the fierce loyalty of their fans, turned up the intensity on their career. The album quickly became their biggest seller, hitting the Billboard 200 and reaching the Top 25 of the magazine's Top Country Albums chart. It contained their first #1 on both the Texas and Americana charts, "Ragged as the Road," and earned them a nomination as Best Band or Duo at the 2009 Americana Music Awards, a show that put them on stage with the country's best at the Ryman Auditorium. It also contained "American Blood" and "God Forsaken Town," widely regarded songs that link them to a working-class tradition of socially conscious music that stretches from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen.
The fact that "God Forsaken Town" was written by Reckless Kelly singer/songwriter Willy Braun with Robert Earl Keen is symbolic of the fact that the band's standing among its peers has never been higher. The respect they've earned from everyone from Steve Earle to Kevin Welch can be summarized by Joe Ely, who called them "my kind of band: hell-raising, hard-playing, kick-ass songwriting, feet firmly in the present, but with an amazing knowledge of where it has all come from."
It is praise that reverberates especially well in the context of their latest work. With new album Somewhere in Time, the band digs deep into its roots, revisiting the music of Pinto Bennett, who with his band the Famous Motel Cowboys influenced a generation of musicians in the Northwest and served as a mentor and idol to Willy and his brother Cody, whose fiddle, mandolin, harmonica and vocal work help propel Reckless Kelly. In the company of their bandmates, David Abeyta on lead guitar and lap steel, Jay Nazz on drums, and Chris Schelske on bass, they explore their country influences and re-introduce Bennett's music to a new generation of fans while placing their indelible, rock-edged stamp on it.
"While this is Pinto's material, this is very much a Reckless Kelly record. It's simply a bunch of great songs we thought people should hear," explains Cody." A lot of Texas bands have been pushing country more toward rock," says Jay, "but to go back to playing real country music turned out to be extremely rewarding for us as a band." "It's not too far a departure from what we've done in the past," adds Willy, "but it reminds me of the old days when we were playing four sets a night, doing a lot more honky-tonk stuff, playing the real dance halls."
Highlights include "You Cared Enough to Lie," a honky-tonk masterpiece tailor made for the stage, the tragedy of "The Ballad of Elano DeLeon" and "Some People's Kids," which updates the kind of rock/country hybrid explored on the West Coast beginning in the late '60s. Instrumentally, the project kicks up the classic country flourishes--there is steel guitar on seven tracks--but that in-the-pocket rhythm section, Cody's fiddle and mandolin, the crisp guitars and raw energy are all pure Reckless Kelly.
Much in the way that Waylon Jennings found his narrative voice through the words and songs of Billy Joe Shaver on the classic album Honky Tonk Heroes, Somewhere in Time finds Reckless Kelly using Bennett's songs as a tool to elucidate another aspect of their true artistic identity.
Bennett himself joined the band in the studio for two tracks ("He did 'em in one take," says Willy), as did former Bennett cohorts like guitarist Sergio Webb, guitarist/engineer Rob Matson, and Teddy Ray Jones, who joined Cody for some twin fiddle work. "Even though it's a little different from our other albums," says Jay, "it never felt forced, or outside our comfort zone. It always felt pretty natural, and I think you can hear that."
The project is the perfect gateway to understanding the life and music that have been inextricably bound since Cody and Willy Braun's boyhood near Challis, Idaho. Their grandfather, Musty Braun, passed his love of music to their father, Muzzie, whose western swing band eventually included Willy, Cody, and their brothers Micky and Gary.
"Our mother was the only person in the family that didn't play anything," Willy says, and she served as the band's road manager. The family act played everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to The Tonight Show. By their teens, the Braun brothers were bringing a host of other influences to their music, and as they formed their own band they drew on the practical wisdom that existed in the very lives of their father and his friends. "They showed us you could make records on your own," says Cody. "You didn't have to have a label. You could make your own records and T-shirts, hire a publicist and do everything on your own. It's how we started, knowing we could make a living doing it."
After a period in the Northwest, they settled in Austin, whose artist-friendly atmosphere and egalitarian club scene proved to be the most fertile possible soil. "The college kids and the party scene helped amplify everything," says Cody. "The live show came around to a real party atmosphere, just having fun and getting people to whoop it up."
Their 1998 debut, Millican, brought the twang, the energy and the hooks together earning them four Austin Music Awards for Best Roots Rock act. Each new record swelled their fan base and widened their geographic impact. "With every new album," says Willy, "we've exceeded the sales of the last one, and every time we go into the studio we try to raise the bar on production and the quality of songs. And each time a few more radio stations play our music and more people come to shows."
With their increased visibility has come the opportunity to give back and 2009 saw the group's first Celebrity Softball Jam raise $30,000 for Austin charities. They have also, in addition to appearances at military base benefits, launched Reckless Soldiers, using their website to help military personnel connect with family, friends and supporters.
Whether it's their dedication to charity work, playing live or the art of writing a timeless tune, Reckless Kelly is tireless in their pursuit of excellence. It's this attitude and their near legendary propensity for a good time that ensures their success as artists. The Somewhere in Time project is no exception. "I think this time," adds Willy, "we did again what we always set out to do, which is to make a record we can be proud of."