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Irene Kelley takes the "Simple Path"

By Clarissa Sansone, October 2001

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Music executive Dave Roy, with Relentless/Nashville, got hold of a copy of the album from Clay Meyers, for whom Kelley had been doing some songwriting. At the time, Roy wasn't yet heading Relentless, but he thought of Kelley as soon as he began signing acts to the young label. "His wife Kathy loved the record" as well, Kelley says, which probably didn't hurt the cause.

The disc "far exceeded our expectations with Relentless picking it up," says Kelley.

In fact, Kelley was a performer before she even started writing songs. As an early adolescent, she took voice lessons. "I'd had classical training," she says, but "it wasn't my first love." Her voice teacher "was very upset" about Kelley's decision, at 14, to sing rock and roll. She warned Kelley that that kind of singing would ruin her voice, but "so far so good," Kelley says.

"My dad played the accordion and guitar," she says, and her brother Benny played guitar in a rock band in high school, so when it came to music, Kelley acknowledges that her "parents were really supportive." She says her parents "put up with a lot," including another brother who wanted to be an explosives engineer and practiced in the garage. "There was always noise or banging" at her house, she remembers. "If it wasn't a bass drum, it was black powder."

At 15, Kelley was singing in a rock band, but after seeing Dolly Parton performing on television (and after having her "Country Bumpkin" epiphany), Kelley chose country music and never looked back. At 19, she bought her own guitar and began songwriting.

"Simple Path" has Kelley performing pieces she's composed with songwriting partners - including Kim Richey, Mark Irwin and Jeff Hughes - but the album includes no solo songwriting efforts, a fact that Kelley deems merely coincidental.

"It's just the songs that I wanted to record," she says of the collection she chose for the album. Kelley considered her solo writing efforts at the time "Simple Path" was recorded as "too introspective" to include.

Kelley describes collaborative writing as a lot of ideas being tossed back and forth, where "you just never know" what will result. "When I write by myself," she says, "it tends to be more spur of the moment."

"It takes me over," she continues, adding "I end up writing (the song) before I can get with a co-writer."

Kelley eschews any notion of market or target audience when she writes. "I can't think of too much when I'm writing except the song that I'm writing," she says, and she thinks "it jinxes it" when she shows someone else one of her incomplete songs."

She has, however, completed some independently written songs for her next album. She considers these "a little more accessible" than earlier ones. Kelley plans to go into the studio with Neubert in January to lay down tracks, including, she predicts, "probably songs I haven't written yet." There are "some surprises coming up on this one," she says, and just as cryptically adds that her next album will feature "celebrities."

After a decade and a half in the music business, Kelley saw her first album released; luckily, she won't have to wait as long for her second. She doesn't mind the long road to her performing career, however. She has her priorities straight: "Being a songwriter has given me the opportunity to raise my two girls and be with them," says Kelley, "so I don't have any regrets, really."

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