Reckless Kelly
American Jackpot / American Girls


4.0
excellent

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 25th, 2020 | 13 replies


Release Date: 05/22/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: God Bless Americana

My first impression of American Jackpot / American Girls was that it was going to be a political cash-grab. This is Reckless Kelly’s tenth studio album, and they’ve been around since 1998. They’re not a particularly famous bunch, although they have found moderate success on country-specific charts. So here come these country music vets, putting the statue of liberty on the cover during an election year, with the word “American” plastered all over the title, and releasing it the Friday before Memorial Day. All of these apparent context clues help to elucidate my initial views that this would be Reckless Kelly’s bid to create the country version of American Idiot, although listening to American Jackpot / American Girls has elicited a very different response than I was anticipating.

American Jackpot / American Girls is barely a political record at all. Sure, occasional references surface because it’s 2020, and the personal is political, but if there is an overarching “concept” to the record, it’s immersion in the grassroots of America. Reckless Kelly observe the everyday struggles and triumphs of the merely average. Perhaps the best summary can be found on ‘Grandpa Was a Jack of All Trades’, an ode to the traditional hard-working breadwinner in what could be coined as “simpler times”: “Grandpa was a jack of all trades / He never once met a stranger, he mowed yards and fixed fence, he always helped out the neighbors, he never wasted a cent, he could tend a good garden, he could sharpen a blade, he made a pretty good omelette / Grandpa was a jack of all trades.” Sure, this could be interpreted as a little bit tongue-in-cheek – particularly the line about never meeting strangers – but frontman Willy Braun’s sincerity is made clear, especially when he sings, “He once was a fireman and he saved a few lives, he was there at Pearl Harbor, thank God he survived / And when the fighting was over, he came home to the home of the brave, a true American hero / Grandpa was a jack of all trades.” There’s very little underlying intent, nor a complex metaphorical takeaway – it’s just a heartfelt tribute to those who helped build the foundation of the United States.

Much of the record treks a similar path, waxing poetic about the simplicities of Americana. The pristinely acoustic ‘42’ is about a baseball jersey, the piano and string laden ‘Goodbye Colorado’ is a homecoming/farewell to the west coast, ‘American Girls’ could be chalked up to Reckless Kelly’s ‘California Girls’ (“I've been around the world and they ain't got nothin' on ya / there's nothin' like them American girls”), and the sparkling guitars of ‘Tom Was a Friend of Mine’ announces the loss of a close acquaintance (“I was driving when the grapevine broke the news…Then silence filled the air like there would never be another sound again”). American Jackpot / American Girls celebrates the bare threads that make up the United States, for better or worse, and Braun’s uniquely personal lyrics help us connect to his world.

I can already sense where your mind is going – and no, this isn’t a MAGA album either. In fact, the record’s opening verses call into question America’s inception, and the whether or not the concept of the American dream includes stolen land: “Sixty-six days on the Mayflower long before the beacon hand, just lookin' for someplace where they could start over again / And then slowly moving westward, planting flags on stolen land, sometimes I sit and wonder what the dream looked like back then.” It’s more observational and contemplative than it is preachy, which is how I wish more artists would tackle politics. One of the other sparse moments of social commentary comes on ‘Put on Your Brave Face Mary’, which is about the disturbing suicide rate among military veterans and active personnel: “VA's understaffed and the lines are around the block, so he calls up the hotline but nobody there has the time to talk / They're backed up for days and dealing with demons they don't understand, Mary holds the line while he takes matters into his own hands.” Again, it’s not so much about espousing a particular ideological angle as it is about lamenting human suffering. For as much as Reckless Kelly immerse themselves in the backbone of America, even they can’t completely avoid speaking out about some of the issues that plague the nation – left or right.

Amid all the dissection over this album’s politics or lack thereof, it’s easy to overlook just how good the music is. The album overflows with beautiful acoustic guitars – occasionally ramping up to electric during the album’s rockier forays – alongside gorgeous strings, endearing fiddles, and even the token harmonica. American Jackpot / American Girls unfurls with a rural Americana purity that should get old across two discs and twenty tracks, but doesn’t – a testament not only to Reckless Kelly’s diverse songwriting techniques but also to the smooth, pristine production which manages to make every moment feel uniquely identifiable and purpose-serving. Some of the most breathtaking highlights are the elegant classical pianos that echo throughout the orchestrated bridge of ‘Thinkin’ Bout You All Night’, the tropical-sway-turned-rocker ‘I Only See You with My Eyes Closed’, and the stunning backing vocalist duets/harmonies on ‘Anyplace That’s Wild’. Attempting to pick out the gems is ultimately a pointless endeavor though, because American Jackpot / American Girls is consistent through and through. Constructing a twenty song, seventy-five minute double country album with nary a throwaway track is quite the admirable feat, and it’s something that Reckless Kelly will always be able to hang their (cowboy) hats on.

At the end of the day, American Jackpot / American Girls – despite its outward appearance – puts politics on the backburner to delve into the intricacies of everyday life in the rural Unites States. It doesn’t often attempt to conflate its stories with socio-political commentary, although it does happen on occasion due to the fact that it’s immersing itself into the lives of regular people. So no, this isn’t some bloated political concept album – and it’s far better off because it’s not. It’s a celebration of America in all of its victories and failures that also recognizes those who quietly shoulder the burden – ultimately, it’s a celebration of you and me.



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user ratings (8)
3.4
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2020


35686 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is honestly so good. I wasn't really expecting to enjoy this (as I elaborated upon in the first paragraph) - assumed it would be a bloated political affair, but it's actually a very balanced, nuanced country 2xLP that occasionally and very lightly brushes on the political. It's an outstanding full listen even at 20 tracks.

Happy Memorial Day!

Digging: Movements - No Good Left To Give

OmairSh
May 25th 2020


16900 Comments


Album art's kewlll

Digging: Elliott Smith - Elliott Smith

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2020


1420 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I had been planning on checking this one out. The lyrical blurbs you posted intrigued me, especially the fact that they're pretty on the noise in their description and not necessarily heavy on metaphor/symbolism. Reminds me of the Drive-By Truckers a bit



With that being said, I'm gonna need you to listen to the Turnpike Troubadours, like, right now

Digging: Ruston Kelly - Shape and Destroy

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2020


35686 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah their lyrics are pretty basic which might be a turnoff for some, but I think they do a nice enough job of varying the topics and they don't try to be anything they're not.

I'll check them at your recommendation; you never really steer me wrong with country!

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
May 25th 2020


1420 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

In terms of like this style of full-band alt-country/Americana (I really need better descriptors), they're top of the game. Released four albums the past decade and I have two of them as classics. Along with Isbell, they're storytelling kings in the genre currently (although they're currently on hiatus)



I actually like simple lyrics most of the time. It takes a really talented writer to make simple lyrics still engaging (as opposed to cliche)

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 25th 2020


35686 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"like this style of full-band alt-country/Americana"

We should get this added as a site genre tag, verbatim

You've sold me on Turnpike Troubadours, will report back with my findings.

gryndstone
May 28th 2020


1680 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

too long but its got a nice feel to it

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 29th 2020


35686 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's a double album so it's supposed to be long, although there's not an appreciable difference between the discs

just a very good and very consistent country/americana release

bobbydylan
June 1st 2020


149 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this sounds really good, need to give it a peep.





Great review btw

bobbydylan
June 1st 2020


149 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Just finished giving it a listen, great album. One of my favorites so far this year.

Sunnyvale
June 1st 2020


1738 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Giving this a first listen, the lyrics are often a bit too on-the-nose for me



However, "Tom Was A Friend Of Mine" is a nice tribute to Tom Petty, hits the spot

Pho3nix
June 25th 2020


914 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

A pleasant listen, but that's about it. And yeah I did not find this record political in any way.

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
July 2nd 2020


1420 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Finally gave this a listen and quite enjoyed it. For some reason, the MO of country albums in 2020 is to write really really long albums that end up getting monotonous. This one escaped that fate more than others, but again, I don't see myself returning to it often because I didn't like the whole enough to justify 75 minutes. If it was cut down I think it would be big in my summer rotation. Will certainly sneak into some playlists though



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