When an artist takes over five years between records, the end result is typically hit-or-miss. After so much time away from creating music in an official fashion, the new material may be lacking in what made their back catalog so inviting in the first place. Other times, though, the lengthy hiatus allows them to take a step back, reinvent themselves, and explore uncharted territory. In Josh Kelley’s case, this is exactly what happens with his new full-length, and eighth overall record, New Lane Road.
Kelley is following up his 2011 album, Georgia Clay, which was his first go at a true country sound. While Georgia Clay was anything but bad, what New Lane Road does is expose all of its weaknesses that may not have been so clear before. This new record essentially gives Kelley a new and honest identity, with some of his strongest songwriting and most captivating lyrics to date displayed throughout the dozen tracks on it.
“It’s Your Move” kicks off the record with a punch and instantly shows what a strong vocalist Kelley truly is. Though the opener is heartstring-heavy, the emotional power ballad does anything but set a melodramatic tone for the remaining tracks to come. For the most part, Kelley is pretty much completely vulnerable on this album, with songs like “Take It On Back” — a track with a mesmerizing chorus backed by earthy guitar tones — and “The Rock Who Found A Rollin’ Stone” — a cut written about the relationship between Kelley and his wife, actress Katherine Heigl. The lyrical content is what really sets the album apart from his previous work, and it’s hard to picture New Lane Road written in a situation where Kelley wasn’t prepared to lay it all out on the line.
New Lane Road hits its apex overall with standouts such as the harmony-laden jam, “One Foot In The Grave,” and the twangy “I’ll Be Standin’ Tall,” while closer “Only God Can Stop Her Now” marks the end to a journey that was clearly much needed in Kelley’s life, but also much needed in the ears of country fans and Kelley fans in general. New Lane Road might not go down as the greatest country album of the year, but it’ll be in the running for the most memorable. Most importantly, it’ll certainly go down as Kelley’s best of his 13-year-long career, and it can only get better from here.
(by Joe DeAndrea)