If there’s one constant rule in Nashville, where musical trends come and go each year, it’s that there’s nothing more important than the song. That’s the guiding principle of Bern Kelly’s new album, Lost Films, a record that deploys a sweeping array of styles, from power-pop to plaintive folk & reverb-washed Americana, all in service of that eternal truism: The song comes first.
Recorded with an array of the town’s brightest studio pros, including producer Patrick Damphier (The Arcs, Tim Easton, TheMynabirds), steel-guitar legend Russ Pahl (Dan Auerbach, Patty Griffin, Miranda Lambert), drummer Jon Radford (Steelism, Lily Hiatt, Leigh Nash) and bassist Travis Vance, Kelly’s latest record is a community-minded effort, the result of his decade-long tenure as a singer/songwriter in Nashville.
Kelly’s influences come through loud and clear on Lost Films’ ten songs, from the gruff Josh Ritter & Bruce Springsteen-channeling album opener “Unsold” to his gorgeous country-folk duet with Thirty Tigers artist Elise Davis on “Garage Sale,” a tune that recalls Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown-era duets with Caitlin Cary. It’s an eclectic album, shifting from swooping Marshall Crenshaw guitar hooks to Mark Kozelek-inspired gothic-noir sketches. Elsewhere, Kelly draws from Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith—in particular, the dreamy, introspective ballad “Forever Alone”—and he stretches out on the exploratory “Madeline Street,” a meandering, seven-minute epic that Kelly considers one of the proudest moments of his recording career.
“That was really a songwriting exercise for myself,” he says. “The original verses were five times longer. I’d done some co-writing in the past, but on this record I handled everything myself. I wanted to have complete freedom to take the narrative wherever I wanted it to go.”
Lost Films (out June 23), was written over the course of three long years during which Kelly mined his own life experiences and honed in on a distinct, dense narrative style. This refined sense of craftsmanship can be heard plainly, whether in the huge pop hooks of upbeat rockers like “Win Your Heart,” “Cash in the Basement” and “Julie” or in the devastating lyrical detail of ballads “Last Day of Spring” and “She Keeps Her Light on.”
Kelly found himself with a treasure trove of material to choose from on his new full-length. “After years of writing, I had all these songs from different periods in my life,” he says. “I went through them all and picked out the ones with themes that best represent where i’m coming from as an artist and a writer.”
Glide is premiering “Unsold,” the first track off Lost Films, a song reflecting Ryan Adams’ knack of building a rock future with a foundation in the past. Kelly sings with a gallop in his delivery that is both righteous and fervently emotive, while his rock rhythms are pure magnetic.