Irene Kelly

Lyric is king in country music…

Interview with Irene Kelly, singer-songwriter

© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly.

Irene Kelly is a country/Americana singer-songwriter with a pure, sweet voice. I heard her song “A Little Bluer Than That” back in 2001 when I resided in England, though my friend Barry Lowis. Later, in 2013 during my stay in Nashville as a Fulbright Scholar, I had a chance to meet Irene and record this interview. She was kind to give me her latest CD “Pennsylvania Coal” – produced by Grammy Award-winner Mark Fain which features Carl Jackson, Rhonda Vincent, Claire Lynch, Trisha Yearwood, Jerry Salley, Dale Ann Bradley, Darren Vincent, Bryan Sutton, Stuart Duncan, Adam Steffey, Steve Gulley and other friends.

Tell me about your music, how many albums do you have?

I have 5. One is a children’s album. There is also an MCA album that was never released. The new one is acoustic, bluegrass. It features all the people I admire and wanted to work it. It was on my “bucket list” to record such an album. A “dream come true”. The songs are very autobiographical. I’m from Pennsylvania. It’s kind of returning to my roots. My grandparents worked in a coal mine. I was raised on a farm. A very simple upbringing.

How did you become a musician?

My grandfather played the fiddle. My father had a radio and TV repair shop in the basement. I watched the Dolly Parton show. That’s what got me into country music. I was 14 years old. I picked up a guitar, taught myself 3 chords. I just came to me. I started developing my own ideas and writing songs.

When did you move to Nashville?

In 1984. I came with my brother. I was lucky. I got a publishing deal pretty quickly. My daughters were born here.

How old are they?

They’re in their 20s. My oldest is living in Paris, France. She’s a travelling musician. She has a Minor in Theatre and French. She has co-written couple of songs on the new album with me.
My other daughter lived in Nashville. She is also a singer-songwriter. She went to Belmont University. She studied philosophy.

Your songs were covered by other people, name a few?

My first cut was by Carl Jackson. Alan Jackson and Trisha Yearwood recorded my songs.

What other music do you listen to?

I am an Allman Brothers fan. I like the bluesiness in their music. I love Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt.

Did you have any musical training?

I did. I had opera singing. I had a private tutor.

Do you warm your voice before a show?

Yes, but not with exercises. I do a gospel song, which I never sing on stage – “Satan’s Jewel Crown”. I have done it for 30 years, the same song.

Do you have a ritual before going on stage?

No. I just try to get centered. To have a piece of quiet. I don’t like to sing on an empty stomach. The more physically well I feel, the better I sing. I am a runner. I try to keep in shape. It helps the breathing.

Why do you like country and bluegrass music? What’s so exciting about it?

I think it’s the lyric first of all. Lyric is king in country music. Melody is really important but it’s gotta make sense lyrically.

Apart from music, do you have other jobs?

Yes. I got a new career about 9 years ago. I went back to school and I learned to be a real estate agent. I sell homes in Nashville. A lot of my clients are songwriter friends. They like to work with somebody who knows their lifestyle.

So, how is the market in Nashville?

Really strong. The recession has come to an end.

What is the most expensive areas?

Belle Meade, Green Hills.

Thanks Irene, lovely to meet you!

Lilly Drumeva