With their debut album, the Nora Kelly Band show they are ones to watch, Kelly proving Americana is a natural fit for her.
For Montreal-based, queer, country quintet the Nora Kelly Band’s Nora Kelly, music is all about playing characters and telling stories: “In my previous punk band, Dishpit, we’d do crazy stunts in our performances, like walking the drummer through the crowd on a dog leash or spraying them with fake blood. I played all sorts of characters in the lyrics of those songs. And you’ll meet a bunch more in the Nora Kelly Band songs.” While storytelling may not be so integral to the world of punk rock, it is the backbone of Americana, so with this new musical direction, Kelly seems to have found her true home.
“I’ve been a fool, a fool / Ain’t no-one gonna turn their back when I’m offering a free handout / I’m going back to school, to school / But this time my education’s gonna be ‘bout myself,” Kelly sings on the banjo-heavy ‘Lay Down Girl’, a song written as a reminder to herself to not lie down and put other people first. “I could just act sweet / I’ve always been the act sweet girl / But now I’ve got this itch / Cause it’s the season of the bitch / And by god I’m on top of the world,” she adds, her punk rock spirit clearly still intact.
‘Catch a Bone’ is gentle and folk in tone, Kelly’s voice breaking slightly with emotion as she speaks of a man desperate to find himself (“Swim in the river naked / Hoping to stir up something to dream about in the morning / Slowly he sets himself free”), while on ‘Horse Girl’, as the city-slicker “horse girl” in question dreams of an idyllic country lifestyle, it gives Kelly a chance to show off a talent for lyric writing, leaving a sweet, but slightly sad feeling lingering even once the song has finished. “I always tip my waiter but I’ve never tipped a cow / I can rob a Dollarama / Never worked a plough,” Kelly bemoans from the girl’s perspective. “I like Hank Williams / And I like Townes / I could ride the range / But I don’t know how.”
Although Kelly sees herself as privileged, on the guitar heavy, pedal steel infused ‘Heartbroken Over a Man’ she still mourns why with a lift so relatively easy she should feel such heartbreak: “The Amazon rainforest’s burning up / And migrants at the borders in internment camps / And still we don’t have no clear plans / Can’t I plan to be happy with you.”
Kelly really gets chance to flex her country twang for all its worth on ‘Purgatory Motel’, that at under two minutes in length is a short, snappy request from someone asking God to let them stay at the titular motel instead of Heaven: “Though I’ve been good please don’t send me to Heaven / All of my friends are down in Hell / And if you decide that you won’t be letting / I’d like to stay in the purgatory motel.” ‘Roswell’ is spacious and string heavy, Kelly’s voice ethereal and beautiful as she idly questions if there is intelligent life outside of earth.
“I’ve been wronged / But I’ve also done bad things / Probably more than I’d ever like to tell you,” Kelly confesses on the opening of the album’s title track, her vocals breathy, but quickly turning into something much tougher as the music meanders before gathering pace. “People die, we’ve gotta go / And in the end all we’ve got to show for it are objects,” she states bluntly, but that’s not to say she’s not proud of the things that she’s collected: “I don’t care who the heir is / After all, these are my things / I’ve got artwork on the walls and I’ve got discographies of vinyl in the closet / And every single little thing was picked out by me.”
“I realized that I’d surrounded myself with ‘cool’ people but not necessarily people who supported me the way I supported them,” Kelly reflected about how isolation during the pandemic affected her, something that eventually caused her to walk away from her previous musical endeavours and instead towards her “dream to play in a country band” that became the Nora Kelly Band. The band’s first album may not be a complete dream, a little uneven at times, but it’s full of evocative storytelling and heartfelt vocals that make it anything but a nightmare.