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Ruston Kelly On World Cafe

Ruston Kelly performing at WXPN's Free At Noon Concert, recorded live for this session.
Taylor Johnson
Ruston Kelly performing at WXPN's Free At Noon Concert, recorded live for this session.

I couldn't make it through Ruston Kelly's full-length debut in one stretch the first time I tried. Between the mortal question — "How the hell do I return to normal / If I'm always ending up flat on my back?" — he poses on the opening track and the heart-wrenching harmonica on the next tune, by the time the vocoder washed over the image Kelly as the "son of a highway daughter, born in gasoline" on Track 3, I had to take a welled-up walk away from my desk. Kelly's been to the brink and back, and you can hear it in the moving songs that make up his latest album, Dying Star.

Kelly was on track to be a professional figure skater before he started writing songs. He moved to Nashville at 17 where he landed a publishing deal, had the first song he co-wrote recorded by Tim McGraw and developed a drug problem that took over his life for years. Kelly told me about overdosing, getting clean and falling in love with his now-wife, Kacey Musgraves. (They met at the Bluebird in Nashville, and Musgraves told me her adorable side of the meet-cute story when she visited World Cafe.)

Kelly's current touring band includes his dad, Tim Kelly, on pedal steel. Hear the band's live performance and my conversation with Kelly in the player.

Copyright 2021 XPN. To see more, visit XPN.

Talia Schlanger hosts World Cafe, which is distributed by NPR and produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania. She got her start in broadcasting at the CBC, Canada's national public broadcaster. She hosted CBC Radio 2 Weekend Mornings on radio and was the on-camera host for two seasons of the television series CBC Music: Backstage, as well as several prime-time music TV specials for CBC, including the Quietest Concert Ever: On Fundy's Ocean Floor. Schlanger also guest hosted various flagship shows on CBC Radio One, including As It Happens, Day 6 and Because News. Schlanger also won a Canadian Screen Award as a producer for CBC Music Presents: The Beetle Roadtrip Sessions, a cross-country rock 'n' roll road trip.