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Album Review: Ruston Kelly ‘Dying Star’

A journey from empty dive bars to arenas, addiction to rehab, and heartbreak to triumph.

Ruston Kelly’s full length debut is an impressive creation for the Nashville newcomer, and follows last year’s Rounder Records EP Halloween.

His delicate grit and soulful voice compliments his well crafted lyrics and substantial melodies — from moody Americana to a concoction of sacred folk, country aches and rock. Confessions are unveiled and he achieves an authentic feel through harmonica riffs and pedal steel. Evidence of a journey from empty dive bars to arenas, addiction to rehab, and heartbreak to triumph are written all over this album.

“Cover My Tracks,” kicks off the record and sets a sleepy, mid-tempo vibe before Kelly’s romantic, soft side is detailed in “Mockingbird” where he begs a lover to be strong.

The South Carolina native explores his mystifying ladykiller demeanor in the vocoder-drenched “Son of a Highway Daughter,” while exorcising habits in the harmonic stricken, “Blackout.”

He documents a near-fatal overdose and struggle with addiction in “Faceplant,” and then confronting a character’s inability to embrace change and mistakes in “Paratrooper’s Battlecry.”

“A lot of my music focuses on suffering, or trying to understand the human condition through the of suffering,” Ruston said in a Rounder press release. “Sometimes you’ve gotta go into that darkness — you need to get lost and then figure out for yourself how to find your way back.”

This assemblage of memoirs takes on two identities. The first exposes suffering and urges you to grasp that aura. The second, introduces a more lifting, optimistic viewpoint.

Kelly draws on his country essence and southern background in “Big Brown Bus,” a twangy, rustic ballad that suggests anyone can forgive, forget, drop all and go anywhere, anytime.

Kelly enlists the help of Lucie Silvas, who co-wrote “Just for the Record,” and is also featured on her record, E.G.O.

The anthemic “Mercury,” addresses all the baggage that comes with aching for someone’s heart, while the impactful, captivating edges of “Anchors,” “Jericho,” and “Trying to Let Her Go,” find Kelly hungering to recognize the feeling of bliss.

His dependence on substances and a dose of grim realism resurfaces in “Dying Star,” the title track of this unified story. As intoxicating as a high can be, lows will always be as bad. It has a languorous ambience, but supports the ending of Kelly’s autobiography. “Brightly Burst Into The Air” is an abbreviated, measured, tasteful conclusion to a roller coaster of an album.

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