Country singer Kristen Kelly Rising star takes pride in songwriting

By John Benson

A part of Kristen Kelly’s past life is a country music cliche.

For years, the rising singer eschewed writing her love-gone-wrong story. That is until producer Paul Overstreet caught wind of her tale and, well, the result is her debut single, “Ex-Old Man,” which was a top 30 hit on radio.

“It’s really funny,” said Kelly, calling from outside of Birmingham, Ala. “That’s personally 10-year-old news for me. I had no intention to write the song. But when I was writing with Paul and in passing I made a comment about the fact that I have an ex-husband and an ex-best girlfriend. He said, ‘Whoa. Tell me a little bit more about that.’

“We ended up writing the song. I feel like had I tried to write that song five or 10 years ago, it might have been a different song. So now we took a not so great situation and we had fun with it and that comes out in the song.”

That song can be found on Kelly’s self-titled EP, which was released digitally last fall and includes her latest single “He Loves to Make Me Cry.” A full-length debut is due out later this year.

It’s been quite a journey for Kelly, who grew up in a small town singing in talent shows and high school choirs. Though she enjoyed music — influenced by the music of her late recording musician grandfather, Sterling Kelly, as well as by her father’s love of classic rock — a career on stage didn’t appear to be in the cards.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2001 when as a bartender she filled in with a cover band singing songs by Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and Fleetwood Mac. Her passion for music quickly ignited. Soon she got a two-year music degree at Waco’s McLennan Community College before pursing music full-time.

Granted it probably took longer than she expected, but Kelly has finally made inroads in the industry with her EP.

What stands out among the four tracks is the fact she co-wrote all the tunes. That’s not something you see everyday in the new artists coming out of Music City.

“Writing has always been a big part of my music,” Kelly said. “The day I signed my record deal was huge, but the day I signed my publishing deal was a bigger day because nobody can take away the fact that I put pen to paper and wrote a song. As a writer it’s important to me. I feel like I have something to say.”

Not only does she have something to say but apparently there are plenty of folks willing to listen. She spent 2012 touring with Brad Paisley and also played select dates with Alan Jackson. Now Kelly is an opener for the Rascal Flatts tour, which comes to Covelli Centre tonight.

For proof of Kelly’s different sound and style, look no further than her soulful, bluesy “He Loves to Make Me Cry.”

“I’m just trying to be me and make the best music I possibly can,” Kelly said. “There’s definitely a bit more grease than polish in what I do. I mean, I am who I am, and I try to make the best music possible. I can’t sing like Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson. They can sing circles around me. I just try to make the best music possible and put all of that out there and just be me.”

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