Kelly Richey’s live shows are full-tilt affairs where Richey wrenches blistering lines from her Stratocaster, occasionally using a beer bottle as a slide. At the end, everyone is sweaty and satisfied.
That’s the Kelly Richey of her first 10 albums. On her 11th, she shows her artsy side, with contemplative Robin Trower-like power ballads railing against injustice and pleading for more peace and kindness in the world. The stylistic shift may rankle some who liked having a talented woman, especially a hotshot guitarist, in the ranks of modern blues performers. The field used to boast many female greats, but Sippie Wallace and Memphis Minnie are gone; 2008 saw mighty Koko Taylor enter her ninth decade and Etta James her eighth. Well-known female blues guitarists are even fewer; after Richey, Susan Tedeschi, Deborah Coleman, Sue Foley, and Bonnie Raitt – who for some time seemed to want to play anything but the blues – it trails off sharply. The change might have been smoother if Richey had mixed things up more, added some straightforward blues in place of some of the mid-tempo numbers that sound too much like each other.
A player as versatile as Richey shouldn’t confine herself to one type of music. And no amount of sonic effects and semi-psychedelic material can hide her skill. But she excels at the blues, which makes the change seem almost like a loss.
Likely she will always play the blues, certainly live. If working new styles for a while pays off economically for her like it did for Raitt, old fans can think of it as overdue back wages justly collected.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’08 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.