Kelly Vaughn - 'My Strength'

Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.

In this edition of Independent Spotlight, I’ll be taking a look at Kelly Vaughn, a contemporary artist stationed in Texas. He recently released his new six song record, titled ‘My Strength.’ The album is an eclectic mix of adult contemporary and Christian songs with a distinct pop/rock sound, flavored with a Texan vibe. Let’s delve into the record:

Immediately, listeners are introduced to Vaughn with the single, ‘Rainy Night in Dallas.’ The production of the record stands out immediately; the mix is clear and professional, which is a nice reprieve from an independent music scene plagued with poor productions. Vaughn’s backing band is right in step with his music and it flows very well. ‘Rainy Night in Dallas’ is a classic love song with a Texan sound. Vaughn dons the electric stratocaster like so many other guitarists from the region, and he does so with exceptional tact. He’s an excellent musician and the guitar sways effortlessly through his jam. He’s a conservative player, which is refreshing since he focuses on individual phrasing rather than shredding the instrument away.

‘Happy Ever After’ brings Vaughn’s blues appeal into focus, and it’s a powerful turn from the sing-song nature of ‘Rainy Night in Dallas.’ ‘Happy Ever After’ plays out like your standard blues tune: the girl isn’t what the guy thought she’d be, but he’s still remorseful for the loss of the relationship. This dark, bluesy number is one of the highlights of the collection with an infectiously catchy chorus and powerful guitar solo that sounds like something straight out of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s pinnacle ‘Austin City Limits’ performance. Vaughn’s guitar style in 'Happy Ever After’ is actually remarkably reminiscent of Stevie’s approach to the strat’s sound.

‘When I’m With You’ departs from the raw blues of ‘Happy Ever After’ for an acoustically driven ballad. It’s a beautifully written, elegantly accented with a minimalistic production. There is no shortage of memorable choruses on this record, and this song supplies yet another. ‘When I’m With You’ does cause one of my criticisms to arise, however. Vaughn’s songwriting and performance feels a bit formulaic at times on the record; he doesn’t venture too deeply into musical experimentation. When artists do this, they run the risk of not taking risks, which in causes their music not to grow or worse, develop patterns and create monotony in the sound. Vaughn doesn’t necessarily do this, though songs like ‘When I’m With You’ feel like they’re built around a very typical songwriting formula.

‘We Should Get Together’ is a nice little love ditty, focusing on the birth of a new relationship rather than the remnants of one. In particular, the guitar solo on this track is the most poignant of the album, it’s dirty and raw, cascading through the mix with quite a bit of power. Lyrically, the song is quite repetitive but it’s still a good jam song, one probably presented with much greater intensity live.

The last two tracks on Vaughn’s record are actually contemporary Christian songs, which is a bold departure from the blues pop nature of the rest of the album. It’s a creative decision that usually alienates or confuses one or both parties that the music appeals to, however, with the secular crowd potentially not wanting the music to take on a religious connotation halfway through the album. On the flip side, those who buy the record for the worship music may be thrown by the secular ballads. In any case, Vaughn manages to make the transition fairly seamlessly.

‘My Strength’ feels like your standard contemporary Christian song, preaching faith, praising the lord, raising your hands to God, etc. In the scheme of popular Christian music, the song is quite good, though it suffers from all of the lyrical and musical stereotypes of the genre in that it lacks a bit of creativity relying heavily on the same imagery.  ‘It’s Worth A Try’ ends the record with another contemporary Christian song. That song, however, feels a bit more adventurous than the previous track. It deviates a bit from the expected nature of the previous track, making for a memorably endearing ending to a strong record.

‘My Strength’ is a very strong album with six powerful songs. Kelly Vaughn is able to maneuver his way through deep blues jams into sing-along choruses, all while finding a faith-based message along the way. The abrupt shift to Christian music may throw listeners towards the end of the album, but that’s clearly an artistic decision that Vaughn deemed worth the risk. Comparing his sound, I would characterize him along the lines of Steven Curtis Chapman, a contemporary Christian artist whose music falls in line very similarly to Vaughn’s since it delves into secular inspirations as well as Christianity. Kelly Vaughn is certainly worth keeping tabs on in the upcoming year; he’s got the talent, he just needs to continue to funnel that in a positive direction.

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