About Rick Kelly
But once you get acquainted with Rick Kelly, you become instantly enamored by his music.
Kelly has been magnetically attracted to pop music with infectious melodies and lyrics he could understand and relate to since his most formative years as a child. That passion informs the music that he makes.
"I am a little bit singer-songwriter, a little bit of a blue-eyed soul kind of guy and a little bit of a classic pop vocalist, almost like Frank Sinatra. My influences fall in that range," Kelly explained. Put simply, he is a contemporary singer-songwriter whose melodies are rooted in classic structure.
Kelly's journey to his new album Dream of a Better Life has been a rewarding one. The Florida native went to Nashville on a voice scholarship, despite receiving prestigious offers from NYC's famed Julliard and Boston's revered Berklee School of Music. He ultimately chose Belmont instead of heading to the big cities on the East Coast. That relocation would come later.
So it was clear from his late teens that Rick Kelly had something. He knew it. Others did, too, since music scholarships aren't handed out of the back of ice cream trucks. He earned it with God-given talent.
Kelly made the most of his experience in Music City, interning on Music Row, which helped him hone his craft. He absorbed everything he could during his time on the job. "I was told I could be the tape guy," he recalled. "I would listen to demos from singers and songwriters, and I worked for CBS, which is now Sony, and other publishing companies and recording companies. At night, they'd let me hang out in the studio for a while. I was seeing the way professionals did it. That was instrumental in making me realize this is a business and not just about people singing what their hearts felt. There was money to be spent, so your song better be good before you step into the studio. So it made me hone my craft even more."
Kelly continued to reside in Nashville, playing with various incarnations of a band. Since the area is the county seat of country music, it wasn't the right setting for him, so he put everything he owned in a U-Haul and headed to the Big Apple.
He gigged. He tended bar. He paid his dues. He had record deals on the table. He played the starving artist role. Eventually, songs he penned in Nashville and New York were recorded and he was paid royalties, and a song he wrote went No. 1 in Europe. This was the first of many cuts for Kelly as a songwriter, but the drive to be an artist on his own terms was still alive.
His girlfriend, who eventually became his wife, asked him to pen a song for her birthday, so he did, penning "Run Run Run." And just like that, the idea for Dream of a Better Life was born.
Kelly dove right in and within two or three months, he had 14-15 songs, sent the music out to gauge interest and it found its way into co-producer Mikal Blue's hands. Kelly flew to Los Angeles and spent three months working on the album with Blue, a musical kindred spirit whose fingerprints are all over some important contemporary pop records, having worked with OneRepublic, Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz.
Kelly wrote all 14 songs on Dream of a Better Life, with three being co-writes. For him, the craft of songwriting is almost a spiritual undertaking. "I love the work of coming up with things that had not been heard before but were not so strange that people wouldn't like it," he said. "It's like describing a universal truth in a unique way, attaching melody. The best songs have both structure and magic, but spoke about something true or relatable. Songwriting is about finding beauty in truth and truth in beauty, and saying it in a unique way."
The title track is one that resonates and determined the course that Kelly set on. "It was one that wrote itself. I felt, as I was writing this, that I changed my mind from writing a few songs to realizing there was more than an album's worth in me and I needed to get it out," he said. "I knew that it would be somewhat autobiographical. It talks about my life."
In the song, Kelly sings, "I've waited all my life just to be with you today / I hit that wall / And I did my time along the way / I had this intuition / I knew you'd love me if we met." It mixes a little bravado with confidence in taking a chance on yourself. He said, "Never be too tired to give yourself another chance. It's the American spirit. We are always looking to upgrade, to be the CEO or the star on TV. It's about being a fighter, an optimist and a dreamer." Indeed, it is definitive for Kelly, in that it's upbeat and fun, almost like a Gospel revival.
"Ain't No Good" is an R&B-leaning track that was a co-write with Lazonate Franklin, who co-penned Lady Gaga's & Beyonce-assisted smash "Telephone."
"Mikal left the control room and I pulled up a beat and an acoustic guitar and in a short time, we came up with a cool, funky melody idea," Kelly recalled about creating the song. "It's a really interesting piece. It's R&B and pop. It was dependent upon a lyric. We wanted to make it a little risqué. It is old school R&B song, with sassy lyrics." It's not serious or making any sort of statement, but it will get the blood coursing through your veins.
The Kelly x Franklin collaboration bore more fruit, as she sang on a handful of tracks, infusing them with some character and funk! The there is the ballad "Made for Me," which finds their voices stacked six or seven times making them sound like the Mormon Tabernacle!
Overall, Dream of a Better Life is a true representation of Rick Kelly as an artist. If you dig pop melodies with killer singing, easy-on-the-ears instrumentation and that sounds new but pays homage to classic pop sounds in a constantly renewable way, then Rick Kelly's Dream of a Better Life is a dream come true.