Josh Kelley – “Georgia Clay”

The older brother of Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley—and husband to Grey’s Anatomy actress Katherine Heigl—“new” country singer Josh Kelley has already released six pop albums and charted the hit “Amazing” (#8) in 2003. Is it coincidence that his emergence as a country artist comes just as his brother’s band ascends to the genre’s pantheon?

Kelley—whose previous releases meandered between mainstream pop and folk-rock—twangs it up just enough to make his brand of singer/songwriter tunes palatable to a modern country audience. Co-written with producer Clint Lagerberg, “Georgia Clay” is an up-tempo crossover entry that fits snugly at country radio thanks to a swelling chorus that draws from some of Dann Huff’s thicker treatments on Keith Urban.

The singer has a satisfying, clear voice, and Lagenberg’s slick, robust production makes the track soar. But the track is so clean that, in a way, the production betrays the song’s emotional center.

Kelley uses “Georgia Clay” as a sort of objective correlative; the “Georgia clay” that is referenced in the song is literal and tangible, but primarily exists to express the singer’s emotional attachment to his past. The physical Georgia clay that he sees, still stuck to the body of the truck that he and his friends used to take out mudding when they were teenagers, opens the door to the concept that “Georgia clay”—and more implicitly, those elements that comprise our sense of “home”—is something that sticks to a person’s soul. “Good old days don’t wash away,” he sings. “Just like that Georgia clay, all over everything.”

All over everything, that is, except this song. There’s not a grain of red dirt, nor a drop or mud, nor a speck of clay woven into this production. Clay is dirty, and it leaves a stain—just like the youthfulness that Kelley is singing about here. Youth is sex. It’s inebriation. It’s raw, unbridled and illogical passion. It is, as Kelley sings, “living for the night.”

But that’s not reflected in the tone or execution of the music, and it’s difficult to convincingly paint the picture this song aims for when the aesthetic employed for one half of the whole doesn’t mesh with the other.

What’s more is that there’s something hugely disingenuous about a former popster with ties to Holywood’s inner circle hopping down to Nashville and immediately churning out a song that has 4x4s and muddin’ at its core—especially when all of that coincides with Lady A’s rise to power.

“Georgia Clay” seems like an attempt to say that the Georgia clay of his past still sticks to his musical skin; the experience described in this song works to establish a connection to this genre’s social values, as if to say that the man has come full circle and returned to his roots after time away.

But it never really accomplishes that end. “Georgia Clay” is sweet when it should be bittersweet, and clean and sterile where it should be dusty and rusty.

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