I’ve always been a sucker for a great singer-songwriter. I grew up listening to my dad’s Neil Diamond and Paul Simon records, and still today, some of my favorite songs are the heart-felt performances of an acoustic guitar toting troubadour.
This year I discovered a new favorite within this genre. His name is Ruston Kelly. Many would consider him an Americana or Alt Country artist, but he calls his style of music “Dirt Emo”. The songs on his album ‘Dying Star’ tell personal stories of struggle, addiction, and heart break. The dark themes are given more weight because they are delivered in his gravelly voice that makes him sound about a thousand years old. And even though he is influenced by some harder rocking Emo groups of the late 2000s, the instrumentation in his songs–acoustic guitar, harmonica, and pedal steel–is clearly Country. Sure, the recipe is unique, but the result is a damn good album.
Ruston has been in heavy rotation for me all summer, and this week Madison and I went out for a date night to see him perform live at the Bluebird Theater in Denver.
It’s especially fun to see an artist live when they’re new to you and in that “up and coming” phase of their career. The songs are fresh in your mind, so you’re primed to sing along, and the concert is usually in a smaller, more intimate setting with a palpable excitement in the crowd. All of this was true of that night.
The stage was decorated with angels, a common lyrical element of his songs, and a banner spray painted with the letters: EMO AF. He played some of my favorite songs from ‘Dying Star’, like “Jericho” and “Mercury”. And his moving vocal performance on “Son of a Highway Daughter” colored with vocoder harmonies brought a few tears to my eyes. Frankly, it’s hard not to feel something when Ruston is singing.
He came back out to encore with a cover of “All To Well” by Taylor Swift, which is also featured on his brand new cover album called ‘Dirt Emo vol. I‘. The audience, including me, pretty much lost it at that point.
All in all, it was a great concert, and I can’t recommend Ruston Kelly enough. Listen to his albums and go see him play, especially if you’re a nostalgic Emo Kid like me.
Who says sad music has to make you sad? For me, it almost always makes me feel better.