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Ragged but unrepentant, Reckless Kelly still celebrates the road not taken

Cody and Willy Braun of Reckless Kelly may hold the world record for shortest turnaround time between bands.

In the mid-'90s, they had been recruited by a manager into a group called the Prairie Mutts. Things were seemingly looking up for the Mutts. The manager had cash to invest, bought the band new equipment and a van, even financed a recording session in Nashville. Then the Braun brothers (Cody on fiddle and mandolin and Willy on guitar and vocals) were abruptly dropped.

"We went and made this record and they kind of just gave us this list of ultimatums," says Cody Braun. "'There will be three cowboy hats on stage. There will be 14 covers a night.' We just got out of that band. They basically fired me and Willy, our guitar player, Casey [Pollock], and our bass player [Chris Schelske], pretty much the whole band except for the drummer and the rhythm guitar player."

The four musicians were understandably miffed, but their mood brightened the very next night. They went to play an open mic, and in asking if anyone in the crowd wanted to play drums, met Jay "Nazz" Nazziola. By the time the five musicians finished playing, they had pretty much formed Reckless Kelly.

Today, Braun considers getting fired from the Prairie Mutts the best thing that could have happened. Plus, it also allowed the Austin, Texas-based quintet to choose a much better band name, inspired by Australian bank robber Ned Kelly.

"We spent about nine months just woodshedding in a rehearsal room," says Braun. "We played about six or seven hours a day for literally six months. It really kind of helped us figure out what we wanted to do musically, what sound we were looking for, what direction we were going. We were listening to Son Volt and Billy Joe Shaver and Stephen Bruton and just that kind of real edge country-rock. That's where we wanted to go."

The road Reckless Kelly has since traveled isn't paved with big paychecks, hit singles or fame. But now, after some dozen years, five albums and a few personnel changes (Jimmy McFeeley took over for Schelsske, and David Abeyta replaced Pollock), Braun believes it is making substantial progress. Reckless Kelly signed to a bigger label, Yep Roc Records, which released the group's most recent CD, Bulletproof, in 2008. It's helped the guys gain more of a nationwide following, and earned them a Duo or Group of the Year nomination from the Americana Music Association, which will hold its awards ceremony next month at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

Arguably the band's strongest CD to date, Bulletproof takes the band's sound in a harder rocking, less country-tinged direction. Strong from start to finish, it features several stellar tracks, including "Ragged as the Road" (a chugging rocker with a killer guitar chord progression) and extra-catchy rockers like "Love in Her Eyes" and "Passin' Through."

"Really it just kind of evolved that way," Braun says of the harder-rocking sound. "The live shows had gotten to leaning toward the rock 'n roll side a little bit more these days than the country stuff. I don't know, it was just fun."

scene@csindy.com

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