Reckless Kelly's third sampling of self-described "hick rock," The Day, leans a little more toward the rock side of that terse description. In contrast to Acoustic: Live at Stubb's, the songs clip along at about four minutes apiece. Gone are the live album's open-ended jams, as well as the propensity for daringly chosen covers. Or any covers at all, for that matter, since all 12 tunes on The Day were penned at least in part by a member of the band.
Despite this autonomy of songcraft, the band relies musically on several outsiders to flesh out its sound, including Jon Dee Graham (and not current RK guitarist David Abeyta) on lead guitar, Reilly Osborne on keyboards and co-producer Merel Bregante on percussion.
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The album-opening "Floodwater," a menacing piece that's one of the strongest of the bunch, is driven along by Graham's growling guitar and by guest Cyruss Thiebault's reckless harp. Of course, RK is best when it has the least reck. As always the harmonies are tight, the musicianship excellent and, above all else, the arrangements provocative. Songs that lack luster in the opening measures almost always include a surprise before the feedback dies. "Come On Over," for example, rides out with traded solos by Graham and fiddler Cody Braun, whose name brings to mind a long-held grouse we've had with the band: Wish they'd turn the fiddle up a smidgen in the mix.
Both of the songs cited above were written by bassist Chris Schelske, whose pen also gave birth to "Arizona Skies," a gem of vintage REM-style jangle-rock with a Southwestern twist. Schelske writes lyrics with an urban desperation and intensity not present in those of fellow RK songwriter Willy Braun, whose tunes are more cowboyishly laconic and self-assured. Which are also two words that best describe his honeyed rasp of a voice, one of the most distinctive in Texas, and one well suited to the band's material.
This is a band best captured live -- or at least quasi-live. The faux live-magic moment at the midpoint of this album, high noon of The Day, underscores this point. One by one the instruments on "Lonely All the Time" quiet down until only a cantering beat carries into the next song, the gently soaring "Little Mama."
While there's not a single train wreck here, one is still left wanting more. For one thing, the guitarist is no longer with the band, so the album is as much about the group's past as it is its present. Still, the disc is most definitely a huge step forward from Millican, RK's first studio effort; it's a step toward fulfilling the band's immense promise. From a less talented group, The Day would be a magnum opus, but not from these guys. For now, Reckless Kelly can go back to the drawing board knowing that perfection is but a hair's breadth away.