Emerging from the nationwide success of winning the 2017 series of The Voice and the release of his debut album Count On Me, Judah Kelly had a realisation that his next step would be a crucial one. Freed of the bright lights and intense scrutiny, Judah knew that his second album was a chance to establish an even stronger musical identity for himself and lay the groundwork for a career playing the music he loves. On Real Good Time he’s comprehensively achieved that goal.
“Apparently I was trying to sing before I could even talk and so there was never any doubt that it was going to be anything else other than music.”
Music has always been part of Judah’s life, from performing in front of family in a New Zealand church at the age of four to three stints at Tamworth’s Academy of Country Music and a number of years spent working for others as a live and studio guitarist and bass player. The support of his family through all of those experiences has allowed Judah to follow his passion and achieve success as a musician and singer. “There was always full support from them to follow the music. Even just after high school when I was doing the broke muso thing, my parents never put the pressure on me to do something else and get a ‘real’ job.”
“For me, the main attraction of country music is its authenticity. It’s important to me that everything we recorded was played by a human being.”
Judah’s extraordinary ability as a singer and interpreter of songs is what captured the ears of the judges on The Voice and the support and adulation of the audiences that tuned in and followed his journey through the competition. As his debut showed, his heart lies in the rich blend of country and soul music that he combines so seamlessly. “I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Temptations,” reveals Judah. “Then, when I was 12, I went to my first country music festival and I actually hated it but I met a lady who introduced me to the music of Vince Gill and I thought that if that’s country, I can do country music. From there it just grew into what I do now.”
“This album is definitely more me than the first one. The first album was halfway there. This one is well and truly, totally me.”
Realising that he needed to lay the foundations for his post-Voice career, Judah set about listening to hundreds of potential songs for Real Good Time. Aware that his unique ability lies in singing and putting his own stamp on other writers’ songs, Judah recalls “listening to lots of songs for hours and hours and waiting for the right ones to hit me.” That commitment has resulted in 13 tracks that run the gamut of human emotion via the heartache of country and the romance of soul music.
One song in particular, ‘Nothing Makes Sense’, was a co-write with Thief (PJ Wolf). Over warm and wistful piano and guitar, it finds Judah baring his soul with unflinching honesty and reflecting on his experiences of the last year. “In the first verse it says ‘When a crown feels more like a hangman’s noose,’ which is playing off my nickname on the show – King Judah. Everyone was expecting something big and great but just because you win the show doesn’t mean you’re famous and have made it forever. Winning the show is a huge step up but people don’t realise how it actually is. Once I won I knew it would be a lot of hard work to get to where I want to go.”
From covering Vince Gill and Miley Cyrus on his debut, Judah has cast his net wider on Real Good Time, taking in the strutting honky tonk groove of the Chris Stapleton-penned ‘Ain’t No Thing’ and transforming Ian Moss’ iconic ‘Tucker’s Daughter’ into a heady, bluesy, soul shakedown. The song’s anthemic and infectious chorus will still incite mass sing-alongs but in Judah’s hands the song is also musically recast in a new and irresistible light. “It just felt perfect for us to play,” enthuses Judah.
The first single and title track ‘Real Good Time’ is another fine example of the shift that Judah, multi-award winning producer Matt Fell and the studio band have made – easing up on the pop sheen from the first album and dialing into an organic and truly authentic sound. It amounts to the perfect soundtrack to highlight Judah’s soaring range and rich, honeyed tone.
“The first album took ten days to record. With this one we took our time. Recording took two or three weeks and then a few more for mixing before I got to hear the first masters, give my opinions on those and make some final changes.”
“This time around it may have been different but it was just as real,” states Fell. “Instead of meeting a deadline we had to exceed our own expectations. We had to deliver a record that showed how Judah had grown as a performer in the previous 12 months and the quality of the songs on this album reflect that growth, as do the performances of Judah and the studio band.”
Judah agrees that the goals they laid out with this new album have been overwhelmingly achieved. “The sound is definitely what I was hearing in my head, which is why I went back with Matt. For what I’m going for he’s the perfect producer.”
Once again the core trio of Josh Schuberth on drums, Glen Hannah on guitars and Matt Fell on bass were used to lay down the tracks. “We’ve done countless albums together but Judah’s was especially enjoyable,” recalls Fell. “After the first being a success, we felt free to push the boundaries more this time. There was an energy and determination in the room that really jumps out of the speakers.”
The true sign of an artist at the top of their game is when they can convey maturity, sensitivity and a heartfelt commitment to the words they’re singing. On some of the quieter moments on Real Good Time, such as ‘Strangers Like Us’ and the exquisite ‘I Can’t Think’, Judah takes the lyrics to heart and makes them his own, with complete conviction. Likewise on the tender, Hammond organ-featuring ‘Call It A Night’, Judah captures that sense of longing, desire and uncertainty that typifies the early throes of a blooming relationship.
On the evidence of this brand new collection of recordings, it’s clear that Judah Kelly lives and breathes these songs when he’s performing them, and that by following his lifelong goal to sing, entertain and grow as a musician, he will continue to inspire others, ensuring that artist and audience will indeed keep on having a real good time.
“For me it is about setting up an actual career now. For me this is the first album. It’s not just The Voice winning dude, it’s a Judah Kelly album.”