“These Hills” by Irene Kelly

Irene Kelley
These Hills
Mountain Fever Records
4 stars (out of 5)

By Larry Stephens

Irene Kelley is a talented songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by a number of well–known bluegrass and country artists. She composed or co–composed all the tracks on this CD. She’s backed by some of the top musicians and harmony singers in bluegrass. The title song is a trip down memory lane to go back home, getting grounded again in a life that’s drifted from original values. Adam Steffey has a beautiful mandolin break on this cut. “Moonlight Is Falling” was written and sung with her daughter, Justyna Kelley. It’s full of loneliness and wanting for love now gone. Randy Kohrs’ resonator guitar adds to the lonely feeling and the voices of mother and daughter fit together like the skin on your hand.

Bryan Sutton plays guitar and clawhammer banjo and you’ll hear him kicking off “Coal Train” while Stuart Duncan takes the break on his fiddle. This, and “Do You Think of Me,” another cut featuring Sutton playing clawhammer, are as uptempo and hard driving as it gets on this CD but that’s okay. Kelley carries the day on the softer side of bluegrass. She likes to tell stories with her songs, like memories of childhood with Dad in the gentle lyrics of “Johnson’s Hardware Store” and “Up In Those Blueridge Mountains” which features Duncan’s fiddle and Scott Vestal on the banjo. Producer Mark Fain plays bass on the CD.

Some of the numbers have a country feel to them but there’s no doubt this is bluegrass. Mountains and memories, love and loss, and she winds them all together as she closes with “Before You Call Me Home”. This is excellent bluegrass.