For a band like Texas country rockers Reckless Kelly, life on the road is the norm. In fact, it's so familiar to the band that guitarist and frontman Willy Braun can almost break it down to a numbers game.
He estimates they've played an average of 175 shows a year for 15 years. That relentless touring schedule and the playing chops it honed, along with a hefty helping of catchy songs and ragged energy, have earned Reckless Kelly its loyal following and its got-to-see-them-live reputation.
"Our live show's kind of always been our bread and butter," Braun said. "We always kind of put on a good rockin' show, and people have come to expect that over the years."
Ever since Braun and his brother, fiddle player and multiinstrumentalist Cody Braun, moved from the Pacific Northwest to the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas, in 1996, they set out to make Reckless Kelly the type of band that was tuneful in nature and dripping with honesty and attitude. That kind of approach certainly resonated among Texas country fans, causing Reckless Kelly to become a notable name in the Southwest's alt-country and Red Dirt music scenes.
Over the course of six studio albums, the band — the brothers Braun with David Abeyta, lead guitar and piano; Chris Scheleske, bass; and Jay Nazz, drums — has made few compromises in its music. Reckless Kelly has bounced around to a few independent labels while managing to break into the top 25 on the country charts on occasion despite a general lack of radio airplay. For its latest album, though, Good Luck and True Love, Reckless Kelly got to control its destiny.
The band decided to release Good Luck and True Love on its own label, No Big Deal Records. The band had self- produced previous Reckless Kelly offerings, but taking control of every detail of the album's release came with a new set of challenges and excitement.
"It's a lot of work and it's a little bit of a learning curve," Willy Braun said. "You can't really blame anybody but yourself if something doesn't happen. We're just keeping our eye on the ball and making sure everything gets done."
Away from the business side of things, Reckless Kelly's most recent offering definitely takes an old-school approach. With the exception of a vocal assist from Dani Flowers on I Stayed Up All Night Again, the band members made it a point to play every instrument themselves without any hired guns and with minimal overdubs. Braun said he wanted to conjure the live vibe of records like Neil Young's Harvest or Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind.
"We just wanted to make it a band album," Braun said. "This time around, we just wanted it to be just us and what we sound like on stage."
Good Luck and True Love certainly gives Reckless Kelly fans a good dose of what won them over in the first place. Dusty, driving rockers Hit the Ground Runnin' and She Likes Money, He Likes Love mingle with the road-worn country ache of Weatherbeaten Soul, aided by Cody Braun's emotive fiddle. Overall, though, the album is more restrained than previous releases, as can be found on the straightforward but indelible tracks Guarded Heart and Give It a Try.
Holding back has never been Reckless Kelly's thing, but Willy Braun said the album's more laid-back feel came out naturally.
"I think we just kind of got to the point where we're not trying to make everything sound tough as possible," Braun said. "We just ended up letting the songs take the direction they wanted to take."
This weekend, the direction Reckless Kelly's tour takes them is Lexington, where the band will perform Saturday at Buster's Billiards & Backroom. For Reckless Kelly, playing shows in clubs like Buster's night in and night out is what they're used to and is its own form of success.
Braun admitted that he wouldn't mind if one of Reckless Kelly's songs found a mainstream country audience and took them to that next level, but he doesn't plan to jump through anyone's hoops to make that happen.
"It's not something we're willing to compromise to reach," Braun said. "Honesty is kind of real important to us. It's who we are, and we don't want to try to make anything we don't' believe in."