Interviews

Published on February 13th, 2014 | by Gerry Galipault

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Get to know … Irene Kelley


For “Pennsylvania Coal,” her first album in more than 10 years, Nashville-based Irene Kelley beautifully mines her bluegrass roots.

She’s known on Music Row as a songwriter, for such artists as Loretta Lynn, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood and Claire Lynch. But she has her own graceful voice and acoustic touch.

Produced by Mark Fain, the album (released Feb. 11 via Patio Records) features guest work from Yearwood, Lynch, Rhonda Vincent, Carl Jackson, Dale Ann Bradley, Darren Vincent and Stuart Duncan. Her daughters, Justyna and Sara Jean, also lend a hand.

Get to know … Irene Kelley.

Pause & Play: You’ve developed a nice reputation for songwriting. Has it been frustrating trying to develop a reputation as a singer-musician too?

Kelley: “I’m grateful to be known and regarded as a Nashville songwriter. I understand if folks have not seen me in their town performing, they may not think of me as a performing artist at first introduction.”

P&P: Through all the challenges, what kept you going?

Kelley: “There have been believers and supporters in my life and in my career that have kept me on track when I ready to jump off. I have been there a handful of times. At the end of the day, music is my passion.”

P&P: How did your daughters get involved in the process? You must be one proud mama.

Kelley: “I am extremly proud of my girls. They are very well-rounded and started out as star athletes. The music came later on.”

P&P: Ultimately, what was your manifesto for this album, a goal you wanted to achieve?

Kelley: “I always loved bluegrass music and pretty much started out in it. This album is just a return to my roots. The stories and songs ring true to me and my life path. It all feels really natural and the timing is spot on.”

P&P: What was the first album you ever bought?

Kelley: ” ‘Dog & Butterfly’ by Heart.”

P&P: What was the first concert you ever went to?

Kelley: “I cannot remember which the first concert was but I can tell you the most memorable one. It was John Denver at the Civic Areana in Pittsburgh. Herb Pederson was in his band. Little did I know that I would later meet Herb and play shows with him. John had a fabulous band, but he had them sit one out while they dimmed the lights in the massive arena and john took center stage with just his guitar. He sang ‘Sunshine On My Shoulders’ and it was so moving and powerful. At that moment I thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to stand in front of thousands and play a guitar and sing.’ “

P&P: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Kelley: “By worst I would say it was because of the hours. I worked on a mushroom farm for one day. We had to be there at 4 a.m. because mushrooms are at their peak at that hour. Musicians, not so much!”

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About the Author

Gerry Galipault debuted Pause & Play online in October 1997. Since then, it has become the definitive place for CD-release dates — with a worldwide audience.



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