Meet Kimberly Kelly, A Country Straight-Shooter Arriving Right on Time
There is a song on Kimberly Kelly's new album that's as good as any released in 2022 at introducing an artist. "Some Things Have a Name" is a fiddle and steel-backed, mid-tempo Texas swinger that doesn't play pretty with allusion and metaphor.
"When you fall into her arms / Darling that's called cheatin' / When I start walking out that door / Baby that's called leavin'," Kelly sings, casually.
“That’s how I speak,” she tells Taste of Country, smiling as she talks about the straightforward message, one of her favorite songs on I'll Tell You What's Gonna Happen (Show Dog and Thirty Tigers). Bob DiPiero and Troy Johnson wrote the song — there's no shortage of venerable songwriters on this debut LP, a testament to the Nashville community's belief in her.
“It was just the lyrics, and also the melody and the music sounded very traditional, so I obviously loved that.”
Kelly is proudly country to the point that she'll joke about being part of a new sub-genre of country music, called "country music." A thumbnail sketch of her career ("I've gotta condense a very large thumbnail") finds her playing the Texas scene for years. This means weekend bar gigs, fairs, festivals, 12-passenger vans and trailers for not enough money to get by. Her sister Kristen Kelly ("He Loves to Make Me Cry") signed a record deal with Arista Records about a decade ago, so she followed her to Nashville to sing backup for her at concerts. Still, she was putting a master's degree in speech pathology to work in schools and nursing homes.
"I was about ready to quit, and I made one last EP, and that’s what got me signed to Show Dog," she shares.
The 12 songs on I'll Tell You ... form a picture of a strong, confident woman, but there's nuance. "Forget the Alamo" finds a vulnerable woman asking a man to come back, with the weep of a steel guitar adding pain to "Forget the Alamo / Remember me." The song is almost literally the opposite of an acoustic ballad called "I Remember That Woman," where Kelly takes pity on a woman broken-hearted at the bar.
There's strength in the vulnerability, she'll say when pressed one what one may naively perceive as contradiction. Strong, confident women are not strong and confident every minute of every day. This is what the 12 songs add up to.
“Which, I didn’t really set out to do that," she shares, "but I feel like that’s where I’m at in my life, and I’m proud of that."
Kelly is proudly country to the point that she'll joke about being part of a new sub-genre of country music, called "country music."
It took some time to get there. Kelly credits her sister with helping her find the confidence to face an audience night after night. In the shadows of the stage, she learned that fans who paid to see Brad Paisley or Rascal Flatts weren't looking to be critical. In fact, the opposite was true.
"As time went on, you just get more comfortable in that background role, and I was able to watch the audience,” she says. "I was able to see a crowd, they’re there just to have a good time and they’re willing to go anywhere that you want to take them as an artist."
Kelly will finish up a residency at the Basement East in Nashville in July and head home to Texas for a trio of shows across the state. The stage is now where she's most comfortable. “People will forget what you said but remember how you make them feel,” she says.
The woman who was once ready to quit actually did in May. After years of hard work, she was able to set aside the full-time job that filled her gas tank for the one that fills her heart.