Musgraves cohort brightly bursts onto the Nashville scene

Nashville singer and songwriter Ruston Kelly’s 2018 album, Dying Star, charts the musician’s rebirth after a period of substance abuse that led to a life-altering overdose. Often, Kelly doesn’t hide the hard truths about his former self behind veiled metaphor. “I took too many pills again,” he sings on the opening line of “Faceplant,” then repeats it again just to make sure you heard him right.

On “Blackout,” Kelly doesn’t fare much better: “I black out in a bar/I get high in my car/I drive ’round in circles/Till I’m seeing stars.” With a voice somewhere between A.A. Bondy and Ryan Adams, Kelly doesn’t wallow in his failures, nor does he celebrate them. Instead he coats his open-wound songs with a thin film of melancholy that’s just translucent enough to let in some healing light.

Like his Grammy-winning wife, Kacey Musgraves, Kelly has no qualms about stretching country music outside of its comfort zone, making use of a vocoder on “Son of a Highway Daughter” while also highlighting his father’s pedal-steel playing. And along with his willingness to experiment, there’s a refreshing honesty about what he’s learned and what he hasn’t during recovery. “You don’t have to understand everything all of the time,” he sings on closing track “Brightly Burst into the Air.” (Don’t miss it)