September 2007

Reckless Kelly - Best of the Sugar Hill Years
Sugar Hill Records SUG CD 4034
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

Willy and Cody Braun were just kids when they appeared on the Tonight Show in 1989 with their two brothers and their father, Muzzie. Muzzie Braun and his kids played Western swing throughout Idaho and Montana, and they even made it to the Grand Ole Opry. The Tonight Show appearance didn’t turn the Brauns into The Next Big Thing, but they kept playing and honing their chops. Willy and Cody pursued their own careers after getting their GEDs and ended up in Bend, Oregon, where they met drummer Jay Nazz (short for Nazziola). Along with two other musicians, they moved to Austin, where they formed the band Reckless Kelly. After releasing three successful independent CDs, the band replaced two of the original members with guitarist David Abeyta and bassist Jay McFeely and signed with Sugar Hill Records in 2003.

Sugar Hill’s most recent Reckless Kelly release is a compilation of songs from the band’s three discs for the label and is part of its Americana Master Series, which includes collections by Guy Clark, James McMurtry, and Jerry Douglas. On first listen, Reckless Kelly can sound like any number of current young country bands, but their rock‘n’roll is tougher ("Nobody’s Girl," "You Don’t Want Me Around") and their country roots go deeper ("Wicked Twisted Road," "Snowfall"). Both the Brauns are wickedly talented multi-instrumentalists, and Abeyta is a bona fide guitar hero.

The recordings on this set are up to Sugar Hill’s usual standards, which means they are clear and perfectly balanced, and they have sequenced the selections well. I wish Willy Braun’s lyrics were always as fresh as his melodies, but he has more right to sing lines like "My first love is a wicked twisted road" than most. This is a band whose best is probably yet to come.