It’s called I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen, but it very well could be called Better Late Than Never. Call it what you want, but it most certainly deserves to be called country, and good. Native Texan Kimberly Kelly has been kicking around both the Texas and Nashville country scenes for years, and had what you could definitely consider to be a full-blown music career in the past, including album releases and radio tours, before deciding to take a more conventional path through life; namely going to college, and getting a Master’s degree as a speech therapist to pull the steady paycheck.
But the passion for country music never left, and here Kimberly Kelly is releasing what herself and others are referring to her legitimate debut album through Toby Keith’s Show Dog label, now distributed via Thirty Tigers. The name of the album should tell you just how steeped in country lore this record really is. It is taken from the time Billy Joe Shaver stared down Waylon Jennings at Tompall Glaser’s renegade Hillbilly Central Studio in Nashville, and told Waylon Jennings he was going to listen to his songs or get his ass kicked in front of God and everybody. Waylon complied, and the result was the Waylon album Honky Tonk Heroes.
I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen concludes with a cover of Billy Joe’s “Black Rose,” as well as a voicemail Shaver left for Kimberly Kelly before his passing in 2020. But don’t consider this an “Outlaw” album necessarily. Instead, it’s a well-written, mostly traditional country record steep in 90s and early 2000s authentic country sounds, full of fiddle and steel guitar, delightfully outdated, but with just enough contemporary pizazz to perhaps tickle the fancy of more modern country fans as well. It’s classic, but there’s nothing stuffy or expired about it.
The album starts with these dueling twangy Telecasters calling to your country-loving heart on the enjoyable opening track, “Honky Tonk Town.” They made sure to not forget to include some exuberance on this record, like the kind you hear in “Blue Jean Country Queen” featuring Steve Wariner about a throwback heartbreaker. Fellow Texas performer Summer Dean has a song of the same name she released last year, but Kimberly Kelly proves there’s enough juice to this idea for multiple songs. And though a song like “Summers Like That” slides into the realm of nostalgia, it’s use of more modern phrasing makes it a song even some mainstream fans could find appeal in.
When you’re talking about classic country though, you’re talking about heartbreak, and that is what Kimberly Kelly dishes out the most of. I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen is emboldened by one well-written song after another, including a few written by Kimberly Kelly’s professional songwriter husband and the producer of this record, Brett Tyler. It’s been said before, but there’s no shortage of great classic country songs floating around Nashville at the moment, only a shortage of singers willing to record them. Names like Jessi Alexander, Lori McKenna, and Bob DiPiero contribute tracks like “Some Things Have a Name,” “Why Can’t I,” and “Person That You Marry” that make for ample heartache essential for any authentic country album.
Kimberly Kelly also co-writes a couple of the songs on the album, but if one wanted to find something to be critical about with I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen, they may point out that the album doesn’t feel especially personal or autobiographical to Kimberly Kelly specifically. Some of the songs do maybe, but it also feels like a collection of quality songs that don’t necessarily fit thematically together for a greater message. The album doesn’t really answer the question of who Kimberly Kelly is, what makes her tick, and why she decided to get back into the business.
Still, the actualization of this album is hard to argue with. If you’re going to wait this long, and all your other albums have gone out-of-print, you might as well go all out. And from the songs selected, to the players brought in to bring them to life, I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen makes for a valiant introduction for a woman in country music who has been around for a while, but has finally arrived.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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