Album Review: Ruston Kelly – Dying Star

Photo Credit: Alexa King

It’s one of the best things to treat your ears to this year – fact.

This Friday, Ruston Kelly is releasing his debut album with Dying Star, out via Rounder Records. Co-produced by Kelly and Jarrad K (Kate Nash, Weezer) and recorded at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, TX, the 14 songs were all written/co-written by the man himself.

Of the album, Kelly says “A lot of my music is focused on suffering, or trying to understand the human condition through the lens of suffering…which probably sounds totally depressing, but it’s actually the flipside of that. Sometimes you’ve gotta go into that darkness—you need to get lost and then figure out for yourself how to find your way back. That’s the only way we can find pure joy, and really be thankful for the life we’ve been given.”

The release of Dying Star follows a breakout year for the Nashville-based artist, whose debut EP Halloween was released last April to widespread acclaim. Born in South Carolina, Ruston moved to Nashville at age 17 to live with his sister and went on to land a publishing deal with BMG Nashville. Now he’s taken that songwriting talent and is on to kickstart his own singing career. And boy, does he light a fire under that career with his debut release Dying Star. 

Kicking off the record is Cover My Tracks, which gives you the perfect insight into what Kelly is all about. Easy listening, genius lyrics and an almost Tom Petty-like voice. In all seriousness, if you love Petty, there’s huge chance you will adore this record.

Second track Mockingbird, written by Kelly, starts with some airy fingerpicking leading in to a full-band intro, harmonica included. Of the song he says “I wrote Mockingbird in a Dominican hotel, on the edge of a bed, at like six in the morning. I needed a release from a cyclical pattern of a doomed relationship. The kind that leaves you with less than what you went in with. But, what directors Stephen Kinigopoulos and Alexa King reminded me with their proposed story about a single mother, is even though I write about my own personal situations, it’s also everyone’s story: the human condition, our connected plight in a mad world. Regardless of how it’s expressed, we all struggle through something with hope on the other side. That’s this song and that’s this video. That’s also why I fell in love working with them immediately.”

Son Of A Highway Daughter is one of the most beautiful takes on the album. Kelly’s isolated vocals, harmonised with a bit of autotuning is haunting. It sounds like a choir piece you’d hear at the very dramatic scene in a movie.

Across Dying Star, there’s a sense of calm, no matter the lyrics. On Blackout he sings about things that help the character get over a break-up, including getting high in his car and driving around until he sees stars. Whereas Big Brown Bus tackles the topic of traveling the wide open spaces of Texas.

While many of the songs are co-written, one of the best co-writes on this records is Just For The Record. Kelly got Jarrad K and Lucie Silvas on board for this one. The song’s harmonies on the chorus give it an extra dose of softness.

The album (almost) finishes with its title track – safe to say, it’s a worthy pick. Not only does it represent what the album is all about, but it also shines a light on what Ruston Kelly does best: killer lyrics and mellow melodies. It is only followed by the less-than-two-minute Brightly Burst Into The Air, and that’s what it does. Its up-beat tune leaves you wanting for more when it finishes at just 1:33 minutes. Which is the exact moment you sit there staring into the distance for a while and then hit repeat.

Dying Star isn’t just a masterpiece as far as debut records go, it is a collection of modern folk-country that doesn’t see many rivals these days.