With ‘New Lane Road,’ Josh Kelley Finally Listens to His Wife
It's difficult to ignore the scars Josh Kelley shares — and at times celebrates — on New Lane Road, an immensely personal 12-song project. Wife Katherine Heigl directed the the music video for "It's Your Move" and pushed him to emerge from a hole he admits he'd retreated to. His brother, fellow country singer Charles Kelley, wrote two songs and was instrumental in helping Josh settle on others. His father even makes a cameo, although he didn't know it at the time.
In fact it's not clear when or if Kelley told his dad he was part of the title track. "New Lane Road" is about the Utah land the 36-year-old lives on with his wife and two daughters.
“It’s the land that’s nurturing my children right now,” he explains. Midway through the folky ballad, "the voice of God" takes centerstage, talking about how important it is to take care of the earth, so the earth takes care of you. Kelley says he just called his father one day and put the phone up to the microphone.
“I don’t know how I’m going to reveal it, because what if he hates it?” he says, laughing of Dr. John Kelley's unwitting appearance.
Two Lane Road (Sugar Hill Records, April 22) was a DIY album, recorded mostly at Kelley's home studio in Utah. The singer produced played many of the instruments himself and listened to his wife of eight years who told him he needed to show fans and the industry how talented he is as a songwriter, musician and singer.
"I’ve never been very good at doing that," Kelley admits. "Even from the very beginning I had a hit single right out of the gate from college and I was almost too young for it. So I actually retreated. I actually ended up going into a hole and falling back on what I love to do, which is be in the studio."
"All the things I love to do I’ve kept away from people."
For example, did you know Josh Kelley could paint? You did if you follow him on Instagram. In fact, a recent piece reflects a dark and personal song on New Lane Road. "One Foot in the Grave" finds a man evaluating the increasingly unkept guy looking back through a mirror. A bluegrass, almost Celtic arrangement backs Kelley as he searches for answers.
“That was a little bit of a note to myself last year when I realized I was living a little too hard," he says. It led to a deep, deep lyric and this quasi-self portrait.
The hardest part about creating an album on your own in a secluded studio thousands of miles away from the heart of country music is trust and loneliness. Brother Charles would fly west to meet him for writing sessions from time to time. At one point, Josh found himself driving to Los Angeles to stay with him. The Eagles, Jackson Browne and California country kept him awake through three states. One song, "Call It What It Is," combines those influences to create a Steely Dan-like sound that he and the Lady A frontman fought over.
In total Josh and Charles Kelley wrote two songs together, but the spirit of collaboration improved the album from top to bottom. “He can smell a hit from a mile away. I cannot. I’m the worst at that," he declares, laughing.
"Between him and my wife, they let me know if a song is worth a crap or not."
The self-penned "The Rock Who Found a Rollin' Stone" and "It's Your Move" are two that surely got Heigl's approval. It's not difficult to hear her in many of these songs. Both of the aforementioned represent the album as a whole. Both are slow, tender and emotional.
“That song is about a big fight that we got in years ago,” he says of the radio single. “It was actually right after we got married. It was one of those fights where we had a decision to make, whether we were gonna stay in the story we were in or not. And obviously we did.”
"I remember saying the words to her, ‘It’s your move.’ And then in my head going ‘Oh my God that’s a really great song idea!”
Heigl directed and starred in the "It's Your Move" music video, asking Josh to lose a little weight and deciding herself to wear the lacy bedroom outfit.
"She’s a sexy girl so if you got it, flaunt it I guess," he says.
In a way, that's the same advice Heigl gave Kelley. New Lane Road is his first studio album in over five years, and it's hard to be skeptical when he says it's his best yet. Fans will ultimately decide that, but few will argue that with some nudging and a little help from family, he's revealed himself fully for the very first time.
Listen to Josh Kelley's "It's Your Move"
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