“She has a unique vocal tone and style, and it stands out amongst today's saccharine female country output and rings of genuine country leanings. Maybe file under Alt Country, but that just means this is more country than most of the songs on the radio charts at the moment.” - Jon Wolfe
— Tamworth Country Music Capital News (March-April edition 2023)
“Bob Dylan-esque sensibilities are heard in the profound lyricism adding a thought-provoking poignancy to the light-hearted tune.” - Nicole Mendes
“The album’s called ‘Friendly Disposition‘ and this song pays acknowledgement to a well known path for many Americana musicians – they start out being in a punk band and then mature into being in a rebellious Americana band.” - Jonathan Aird
“As my regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of the Americana/folk genres, and Waiting for Brenda contain those genres in spades! 4th July is a haunting folk song that has all the hallmarks of the genre, as well as a fast, country beat. The violins sound particularly stunning in the background, laid out against the gorgeous electric guitar lines that make up the main instrumentation on this pretty tune. Vocalist Brenda’s voice sounds perfect here, with her lyrics suiting the style of music exceedingly well.” - Jane Howkins
Waiting For Brenda, “Friendly Disposition” Album Review
Brenda Lee Kelly is no stranger to songwriting or performing. She’s been playing her own brand of country folk mixed with a smattering of indie attitude for over three decades now. You may have seen or heard her in her other projects KiddnKelly Gang, Scarlett Road or Wayward Angels. Regardless of the vehicle, over the years one thing has remained consistent in Brenda’s music, it’s about the stories, the people, places one remembers from a lifetime of journeys, family and friends.
In what started out as a tribute show to Billy Bragg, who’s own Australian shows were continuingly delayed due to the pandemic, Brenda assembled a core group of musicians to rehearse his music for a yet to be determined show. When the opportunity to play a set of her own music at the Neurum Creek Folk Festival in late 2021 presented itself, Brenda and her bandmates turned the rehearsals to her own original songs.
This new album curates 11 original songs, covering a range of musical terrain, from country and folk, to alt-country and indie rock. Electric and acoustic guitars, drums, electric and acoustic bass, violin, dobro and lap steel feature throughout, along with Brenda’s own haunting, yet melodic, alt-country vocals. Hers is a friendly though blended disposition (pun intended) of voices – that gal next door mixed with a touch of Lorretta and Patsy.
Opening track and lead single 4th July is led by Garry Bain’s driving electric guitar motif, with Luke Mysliwy’s violin finding the melody lines. The song was born during a crisis time in the US where Brenda noted that the celebratory mood was at odds with what was actually happening at the time around 4th July.
The title track Friendly Disposition, the second single prior to the album’s release, is even more country in vibe, with slide guitar featuring and violin throughout. It was inspired by a reference from one of Brenda’s employers in her younger days, overall a welcoming tone rather than excluding.
Closing Time At The Cemetery Gates has a Brechtian feel to it, with haunting violin and guitar motif later joined by soaring lap steel. It tells the story of a visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris to pay respect to the famous graves therein, the limited time till closing a clever metaphor for the lives of the local residents now ended. When Brenda sings “I don’t want to go just yet”, it’s hard not to agree with the sentiment. Despite its subject matter, it’s a catchy little ditty with more than a smattering of humour, the closing lap steel sweeping to the heavens.
On a Tuesday has a momentum that carries the listener through the seemingly endless fatigue of cancer treatment. It’s one of the strongest tracks on the album, certainly one of the most personal, and the band find their groove from the outset, pushing us along with an ultimately positive outlook.
She Knows All the Words To Patsy Cline is an unashamed tribute to the country heritage of the song’s namesake. With references to Patsy’s own lyrics smattered throughout the song and some nice harmonies, it’s a fittingly great rollicking tribute to country music. It was recognised at Tamworth a few years back in the songwriters’ awards and deserves a wider audience. I can see the song being a regular feature at country music parties for a long time to come.
Following on from Patsy’s country nostalgia comes a wakeup call to more modern possibilities. Punk’s Not Dead (It’s Gone Country) is a tongue-in-cheek homage to music in general from a lover of music, looking forward but with a fond recognition of the past. Its chugging electric guitar and bass is counterpointed with staccato violin that morphs into something all together sweeter. It’s a hoot! The band’s enthusiasm is in full swing and your foot will be tapping after the first few bars. The song references country and punk music icons, from Johnny Cash to Johny Rotten. While we’re talking about Johns, Johnno Harrison’s slide guitar reminds us that we are still definitely in country territory.
Wildhorse Mountain is one of Brenda’s older songs and resurfaces here with Melinda Cole’s violin beautifully weaving the melody into the groove. As usual, Craig Tobin’s drumming and Peter Cheney’s bass hold the rhythm tight. Though inspired by the name of the forestry observatory between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, the mythical Wildhorse Mountain is the kind of town where you can check out but never leave. It’s another sweet slice of country, and if you were in any doubt, the healthy dose of slide guitar just makes it sweeter.
Stepping it down a notch, Hand Me Down Kisses is a sparse acoustic arrangement reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas soundtrack, with haunting harmonica and dobro weaving their magic through the mix. Images of swinging saloon doors, dusty dirt streets, rolling tumbleweed and crows on church spires come to mind, invoked by guest Glenn Kidd on acoustic guitar and harmonica.
Inspired by the constellation, Barnard’s Star is another well balanced track. Smooth slide guitar will have you drifting off into the night sky. It’s a whimsical and beautiful song, reflecting on love and loss without drifting into melancholy. Some beautiful slide work by resident guru Johnno Harrison elevates the track above the sum of its parts. It’s a real grower.
Superinformation Highway Blues is, as the name suggests, a blues rock out devoted to the information age. Communication may have got more complex in modern times, but Brenda and the band are keen to remind us that 12 bar blues can deliver the message just fine, thank you very much. The electric guitar’s a bit dirtier and the rhythm section keep the momentum shuffling along. It’s a dance floor filler for sure. Brenda’s zero and one lyrics over the outro is a fitting reminder that the digital age is here to stay, for better or worse.
The album’s closer No tears In Sunshine is a slow country waltz that will have you reminiscing about country dances and supper sandwiches. It’s a lovely sentiment and a great song to close out the album. Acoustic guitar, violin and Brenda’s thoughtful lyrics drive the song.
Friendly Disposition is an album that slowly unfurls before you, with light and shade to engage the listener. There’s something here for everyone, but the overall effect is like meeting an old friend after a long long time apart. Waiting For Brenda have delivered a warm collection of songs that feel nostalgic yet fresh and will reward repeated listenings. There’s celebrations, ruminations on life and love, faces, places, and most importantly, good times to enjoy.