Bright Kelly – Funeral Tickets (Deluxe Edition)

There are a lot of reasons for a frontman to take the band-to-solo-act route: personal conflicts, differing artistic directions, and the ever-famous “pursuing other opportunities” cliche. In the case of Bright Kelly and his former band, The Great Enough, it was the other ever-famous cliche: March of 2020. Within a week, a full calendar of live dates, big festivals, a label deal, and enough money for the trio to make a living that year was gone. It’d be enough for anyone to throw in the towel.

But Bright Kelly isn’t anyone. Bright is stubborn, he’s determined, and he doesn’t actually know how to stop, to be honest. His newest EP, Funeral Tickets, is a collection of songs that he’s been putting together over the last few years, along with completely different versions of those songs on the B-side. Released now as a deluxe LP, both sides read like two starkly different EPs despite being the same songs.

It’s not about pitting the album sides against each other and seeing which version is “better” than the other. The piano-and-voice renditions are by no means the “demos” of the songs on side A – they could have been on the first EP themselves. As you listen to “Better Than This” with its full instrumentation and sweeping builds, those same movements in tone and intensity exist in its piano twin, despite the “stripped down” nature of that version.

Taking a song like “Jesus Was a Socialist” (entitled precisely for the reaction), I almost find myself breaking my rule of not judging the versions against each other: the piano arrangement gives the full meaning of the lyrics front-and-center treatment. The impact of the song is there regardless, but something about the voice-and-piano starkness just hammers home the message: we do not interrogate history, we do not ask questions, and we would sell our whole lives to masses of strangers if given the chance to be famous. It’s where the album’s title comes from: “We’d sell tickets to our funerals / you can have a piece of me.”

“I Remember Everything” feels like a lost tune from The Great Enough, and would have been well at home with the rock power-trio. Take it to its piano roots, and it’s another indictment and lamentation of those who could have stepped up for us, but didn’t. The closer on both sides is a tune Bright’s played a lot live, and “hellogoodmorning” may have been the original proof of concept for him to release the record this way.

It’s a song that, regardless which way you hear it first, has an impact. Side A has harmonies, layers of guitars and keys, driving percussion – all tools that songwriters have been using to elevate their ideas when they go to the studio. Side B is Bright in a room, talking to himself right before the songs starts: “Okay, let’s do this.” 

The piano version reads as both a conversation with the listener and a conversation with whomever he’s singing about. There’s a looseness to the delivery, like you caught him playing a late night set to a handful of people who stayed to the end, but he’s still fine tuning exactly how the song is going to go. Capturing that on record is a feat, like capturing an elusive animal that will not be still, that refuses to be pinned down and studied. It has all the power of the full arrangement. Maybe even a bit more. There I go, breaking my rule again.

Funeral Tickets is available wherever you get digital music, and the deluxe edition is available on vinyl LP on Bright’s website, as well as directly from the merch table when you go see him live. With tour dates spanning the mid-Atlantic and New England in April, there are plenty of opportunities to see the gifted songwriter and performer do the thing that he does best. The songs, no matter what version you hear, are strong and sturdy, and defy a singular understanding. It’s a joy to be able to hear them this way.

Funeral Tickets (Deluxe Edition) is out now via The Lamplighters Union. Support Bright Kelly on bandcamp, and visit his website for more touring info. Philly folks can catch him at JD McGillicuddy’s on April 12th!

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