More ‘Joy of Making Music’ Irene Kelley at The Station Inn

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Sisters Sara Jean and Justyna Kelley, harmonizing with their mother Irene.

Another “Only In Nashville” moment…

I’ve gotten to know Irene Kelley a little bit through my association with The 1861 Project.  She has contributed several co-writes and vocals to Volumes 1 and 2 of that series, and will be appearing on Volume 3 when it is released this spring as well.

I don’t really know Irene’s whole career story.  I gather that she had a major label deal for a while, but was perhaps one of those talents for whom being shoehorned into mainstream commercial country was not exactly an ideal fit.   What I do know is that she remains a highly respected songwriter and is a delightful singer,  gifted with one of those voices that is so clear and refreshing you could listen to it all day.

It has been over a decade since Irene has released an album of new recordings, but it’s been worth the wait.  Last week she released Pennsylvania Coal (iTunes), a loving, bluegrass-flavored reminiscence of growing up in the coal mining country of her parents and grandparents.

The production on Pennsylvania Coal  was guided by Mark Fain (another stalwart from The 1861 Project) who created just the right sound for Irene – to my ears a much more suitable sonic environment than what I’ve heard of her earlier country recordings.

I was hired to photograph Irene’s CD release party at the Station Inn last Friday night.  In preparation for the event, I listened to a preview of the new CD, and one track that I was most looking forward to hearing was You Are Mine (iTunes), which features vocal harmonies by Irene singing with her two equally talented daughters, Sara Jean and Justyna.

As soon as I heard You Are Mine I gave myself a personal assignment – in addition to covering the entire show – of getting a definitive shot of the three Kelley women singing together.

I couldn’t get that shot during the show.  When they sang “You Are Mine” together, each of the girls (yes, yes, I know… women…) had to take their own microphone, and so were spread out across the stage.  The resulting photo is rather flat, with the usual microphone in front of their faces.

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See what I mean?

After the show, I persuaded them to return to the stage and gather around a single microphone in order to recreate the moment for the sake of the photo at the top of this post.

However, rather than singing You Are Mine, these three angels started harmonizing on a rendition of Crosby Stills and Nash’s Helplessly Hoping.  Hearing this his was an unexpected delight, the close three-part harmonies so brilliant that I could easily imagine, “this is how Irene raised these girls, riding around in the car, singing songs like this together… ”

All I could do was watch them through the viewfinder and fire away… it was not until I got home and looked at the files that I could exhale and think to myself, once again… “only in Nashville…”

I would dearly love to offer a player with some tracks from Irene’s new CD, but it is not available for streaming yet.  The best I can do is offer a track from The  1861 Project.  So please enjoy one of my favorite tracks from Volume 1, Horse Without A Rider:

For more information on having your next performance professionally photographed, please visit

thejoyofmakingmusic.com



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Paul Schatzkin