Though country music fans may just now be hearing about Josh Kelley, the 31-year-old singer/songwriter is no stranger to the recording industry. Originally signed to the pop-format Hollywood Records in 2002, Josh released two albums under the label’s banner before starting his own independent label and releasing four albums himself between 2006 and 2008. Now signed to MCA Nashville, Josh is using this opportunity to showcase his talent on Georgia Clay, a collection of country/pop songs that introduce Kelley’s skill as a writer and performer.
From the quick hook of the album’s opening track and nostalgic first single, “Georgia Clay,” it’s immediately apparent that Josh’s experience as a pop songsmith lends itself to tight production. A B-3 organ, acoustic guitars and bass move in unison to the up-tempo kick of a bass drum before Kelley’s voice effortlessly enters to carry the verse and radio-friendly chorus. Yes, this and a majority of the songs included skew toward the more pop stylings of today’s country format, but Kelley’s slight southern drawl is completely at home here and continually exhibits a knack for melody.
Josh wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on Georgia Clay. It’s his personal attachment to each song that really makes the collection work. On the slow, soulful “Two Cups of Coffee,” Kelley plays off the lonely feeling of always having a pair and no one to share it with before singing “I got too much of me and not enough of you.” His melodies move in and out, skillfully weaving through the music. Kelley’s ability to find the song’s natural flow is most apparent on “Ain’t Lettin’ Go” (co-written with Patrick Davis and Kelley’s brother Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum), a passionate country/rock piece where his vocals move from restrained during the verse to fluid throughout the chorus as he sings, “Pouring through this pay phone line/ Just too hard to say goodbye/ I thought that you should know/ I still love you and I ain’t lettin’ go.”
The album’s best song is “Naleigh Moon,” a moving acoustic ballad dedicated to Kelley’s adopted daughter (he’s married to actress Katherine Heigl). Featuring Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Josh’s voice is rich and emotional as he sings “Halfway around my little world/ You had no idea that you were my girl/ You found my arms not a moment too soon/ I couldn’t see past me till I saw you.”
Josh does indeed know how to turn a lyric. He enlisted the help of some of Nashville’s top talent for this project. Co-writers include Music Row hit men Craig Wiseman, Lee Brice and brother Charles. Yet, even with a variety of co-writers throughout, it’s Josh’s voice and personal attachment to each song that carries the album and leaves little doubt that Georgia Clay serves as an honest introduction.