Wake The Dead isn’t just what Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter Mike Kelly does with his cutting edge country music. The title of his debut album also alludes to the story of his life and the event that prompted him to assertively reach for the musical brass ring.
Great country songwriting awoke Kelly to the fullness of musical expression and prompted him to pick up a guitar and start writing and singing his own songs. Then a serious health crisis during which he technically died and came back more alive than ever kick-started his determination to make the most of his music and take it as far and wide as he can.
So it’s no wonder that an elemental life force as well as a joie de vivre brims from the 12 tracks of the fully recovered Kelly’s first full album. As he sings in the opening song, the lonely lament “Drinking Downtown,” Kelly is musically “determined to make it top shelf.” He connects with such primal feelings as lust (“All I Wanna Do Is You”), longing (“Come Back To Tulsa” and “Idea #3”) and true love (“When A Boy Loves A Girl,” on which he duets with Erin Austin of the rapidly-rising Oklahoma band OK Sweetheart). One finds hard-won wisdom (“Taking The Blame” and “Ain’t About Dreams Anymore”) and astute reflection (“The Only Thing I Remember” and “Since You”), plus the rousing good time celebration “Two Kegs In The Swimming Pool.” On the touching title track Kelly revisits the emotions his near-fatal experience on the title tune before he brings the disc to a revelatory close on the rollicking closer “Closer,” which recounts his country and roots music epiphany and subsequent return to the Southwest that led him to make Wake The Dead.
Produced by Dave Perciful (known for his work with Dave Cook and Brandon Jenkins) at Yellow Dog Studios in Austin, Wake The Dead is powered by a crew of top Texas and Oklahoma players known for their work with Cook, Pat Green, Charlie Robison and Stoney LaRue. It’s country music that crackles with contemporary vitality yet is rooted through its rock-solid songwriting within feelings and experiences that everyday people know and can relate to thanks to Kelly’s gifts for resonant melodies and eloquent lyrics that spin genuine artistry from the stuff of real life.
Currently making his indelible mark on the live music circuit across the Southwest, Kelly hails from Ruidoso, New Mexico, where he initially followed the family line of his father and grandfather and played drums from an early age. Like many, in his teen years a rebellious streak led him to punk rock. Yet at the same time, a job in a barbeque restaurant where the entertainers performed Western music by Marty Robbins and the Sons of the Pioneers planted a seed in his muse.
After his high-school graduation Kelly headed to the West Coast, where he toured and recorded with the hardcore rock bands Point of Recognition and Island /Def Jam recording artists Letter Kills. Just as he was finding it a musical dead end, hearing the songs of such legendary artists as Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver provided an epiphany. He switched instruments to guitar, headed to Lubbock, Texas, and spent a few years honing his craft as a songwriter and singer and finding his feet as a performer in coffeehouses.
Moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kelly put together a band, landed a weekly residency at a club, and hit the studio to record the songs that became his debut EP, Come Back To Tulsa. But sensing something amiss with this health, he headed back home to Ruidoso and landed in the hospital due to congenital heart failure. Both his heart and lungs stopped for eight hours while he underwent valve replacement surgery. He survived thanks to life support, and while recovering he found and felt a new fortitude to excel in music.
“Before that I had always done everything only halfway and never finished everything,” Kelly confesses. “I started chasing after something different.” A slew of new songs started percolating, reflecting such further inspirations as Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely and Charlie Robison. He pressed up his EP and got it up on iTunes, and then started visiting Austin to record an album.
Eventually moving to the Texas musical capital, Kelly put together a band and began winning fans and followers as they stepped out onto the Texas/Red Dirt live music scene. Now with Wake The Dead and his dynamic shows perking up ears thanks to his life-affirming energy, spirit and lyrical messages, he is determined to spread the sparks he’s created out of Austin into a nationwide musical wildfire. “There’s a lot of people around the country who like good music,” Kelly concludes. And he now stands ready to reach and touch them with his music as if his life depended on it.