If your lineage includes a line of accomplished musicians, it would seem logical to employ the family name when choosing what to call your band. Unless you are brothers Cody and Willy Braun, who have their father Muzzie Braun and uncle Billy Braun to thank for introducing them to a life of Americana/country tinted roots rock. They, instead, have the Robin Hood-like 19th century Australian folk hero Ned "Reckless" Kelly (not the title character of the 1993 barely-B-movie starring wild-haired Aussie, Yahoo Serious) to thank for their moniker.
Not ones to ignore the draw an interesting name choice--and an incredible line-up of musicians--can have, they're headed to Boise to throw down their Sorry For Partying show at Idaho Botanical Garden on Friday, July 3. And just as their outlaw name belies Reckless Kelly's good nature, the boys in the band aren't even a little bit sorry.
The Braun boys started their musical career growing up in Challis, Idaho. A move to Austin, Texas, in 1996 afforded them access to a whole new scene. Young people, artists and musicians have long been flocking to Austin, exploring not only music, but a myriad of creative outlets. In the city where South By Southwest--a festival Reckless Kelly has played--was born, Reckless Kelly found fertile ground on which to build and grow.
Cody Braun, whose mandolin and fiddle playing is a big part of RK's signature sound, talked to Boise Weekly after a day in the studio and before a scheduled gig at the Texas Hall of Fame in Bryan, Texas. Though they live nearly 2,000 miles away, their home state of Idaho is never far from their thoughts. They've been working on a new CD--scheduled to be released early next year--of songs by Idaho legend Pinto Bennett.
"Pinto and [Mark] Sergio Webb have been in town all week," Braun said. "It's going to be a Reckless Kelly record; it's not so much a tribute record. It's like when Waylon Jennings recorded a record of Billy Joe Shaver songs called Honky Tonk Heroes; and Steve Earle did a Townes Van Sant record [appropriately titled Townes]. We've been talking about doing a Pinto thing for 10 years. The timing never worked out with the labels ... but we finally got to a point where we could do it. It's really exciting and all the stuff we have so far is really cool."
Reckless Kelly originally planned to put the CD out on their label Sugar Hill records. But when Sugar Hill closed its North Carolina office, with whom the boys had worked, Reckless Kelly pulled out of the deal. But their new label, Yep Roc, was unfamiliar with the music of Pinto Bennett. It didn't take long, however, for Yep Roc to get on board. The band used the strongest tool at their disposal to convince the label the project would be mutually beneficial: the music.
"We sent them the CD of the songs and they were like, 'Yeah! This is great stuff,'" and they started work on the album Braun said.
As excited as they were to record the songs, it was just as important that they maintain their own identity on the record as well.
"We're putting a new spin on a lot of the stuff [so] it will be a Reckless Kelly rock-country record," he reiterated. "There's probably a little more country vibe than stuff we've done in the past."
Except for their last release, 2008's Bulletproof. A rock 'n' roll record for sure--even iTunes lists its genre as just rock--Bulletproof still has a foothold in the world of rhinestones and cowboy hats. Even in the most rock-like songs, the lyrics touch on themes country musicians are best known for.
In the relentless, anthemic "American Blood," singer Willy Braun decries the nation's role in the Iraq war by following the tragic story of a young soldier. It's not an original idea--regardless if categorized as country, Americana or rock--but one often expressed by more maudlin music. This track, however, opens with a George Thorogood-esque guitar riff followed closely by a thumping boom-chuck-a-boom drum, as Willy's not-too-growly, not-too-sweet voice, sings lyrics that come as a surprise: "Johnny can't drink 'cause Johnny ain't 21 / Yeah, but he's 18 and he's pretty handy with a gun. They sent him off to a foreign land / gave him a new pair of boots and 13 grand / and he came back home with American blood on his hands." Johnny becomes a sad statistic of war. He's now old enough to get into a bar, but can't walk in: "Now Johnny can drink all day 'cause he's 23. / He donated his legs to the worldwide land of the free."
Since the beginning, Reckless Kelly has been traveling back and forth across genre borders as frequently as they cross state borders when touring. They've performed with the likes of rockers Reverend Horton Heat and Nashville Pussy, but blend just as seamlessly in a lineup that includes the Americana sounds of the elder Brauns, Bennett or their brothers Gary and Micky of Micky and the Motorcars.
"Here in Texas we play a lot of honky-tonk bars, where they want to hear more country stuff," Braun said. "We mix it up a lot. We change the setlist every night ... new stuff, old stuff, cover songs. We [put together] a setlist more for ourselves than anyone else," he added, laughing. "But we do keep it fun for everybody."
Reckless Kelly has an avid fan base in Idaho where their country/rock/Americana sound is hugely popular, but Braun said they like it in Austin, where the music scene has a kind of alternative vibe.
"The stuff we're doing is pretty underground here. Nobody's broken into the mainstream really yet," Braun said. Musicians like Pat Green and Jack Ingram are breaching that underground-to-mainstream divide, but fans mainly find bands like Reckless Kelly via word-of-mouth and the Internet. Aware of this, the band uses social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to post show schedules, interact with fans and take advantage of DIY guerilla marketing. But nothing beats a live show, and the Sorry For Partying tour promises no regrets, regardless of whether you're a rock 'n' roll rebel at heart or a country music purist.
"I've had people come up to me after a show and say, 'I hate country music but you guys are all right,'" Braun said, laughing.
Friday, July 3, 3 p.m, featuring Reckless Kelly, Pinto Bennett, Muzzie and Billy Braun, Jeremiah James, and Joshua Tree. General admission $25 advance, $30 day of show, children under 12 $10. Idaho Botanical Garden, 2355 N. Penitentiary Rd., 208-343-8649, idahobotanicalgarden.org.