How Brian Kelley Defined His Place in the Country Field With ‘Acres’

When Florida Georgia Line decided to go in solo directions, Brian Kelley arguably had the tougher route, simply because of his established role in the duo.

Tyler Hubbard has one of the most identifiable voices in the genre, and he understandably took the lead on all of the pair’s singles, plus most of the album cuts. Those trademark FGL harmonies relied heavily on Kelley’s input, but he found himself in much the same position as Kristian Bush in Sugarland — a familiar face that country fans heard all the time, but rarely by himself.

So when Kelley turned to producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Kane Brown) for assistance with his second solo album, Tennessee Truth, he was fired up by Huff’s appreciation of his tone.

“From the first meeting, he gave me so much confidence,” Kelley reflects. “He was a fan of my voice, and he was excited to go to work, and when Dan Huff says he’s got it, you’re like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ ”

And Huff really did get it.

“Because he was not the lead singer in the band, I think he really wants to stamp his personality, let people know he can sing,” agrees Huff. “And I always have enjoyed his voice. He’s got a beautiful, kind of almost-Alan Jackson tenor.”

Kelley is set up for success in his latest single, “Acres,” an upbeat release that most certainly stamps his persona. It piles up brands and activities related to one of his favorite getaways — including Mossy Oak clothing and a Chevrolet K5 Blazer — and frames those images with a melody that hammers the sweet spot in his voice. At the end of most lines in the chorus, the next-to-last syllable — “a-cres,” “Bla-zer,” “Ga-tor,” “take her” — repeatedly lands on the same note, one that creates tension within the key signature even as it highlights one of the best sections of his range.

“I think we got it in the groove key for me where it’s easy, in a sense of a vocal,” he says. “But it’s also pushing and it’s got character, and I’m able to utilize my voice to the fullest.”

Kelley wrote “Acres” at his Middle Tennessee home with Adam Sanders (“Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” “Hell of a Night”) and Will Weatherly (“Good As You,” “Thinking ’Bout You”) on June 15, 2023. 

“I remember just sort of strumming on guitar, the fast chord progression of the intro,” notes Sanders. “I thought that I was just kind of playing around, and Will was like, ‘Hey, that’s really cool, don’t stop’ — and in true Will Weatherly fashion, he just whipped the track out.”

Kelley picked the title “Acres” out of a list on his phone, and he tied it to a piece of land his in-laws own in Georgia. 

“We go there once or twice, sometimes three times a year,” Kelley says. “It’s a place where you can fish, you can hunt, you can chill. We’ve written songs out there, we’ve ridden around; we’ll do night rides, looking for all sorts of stuff. It’s kind of a little bit of a safari vibe, you know, and, man, it’s become a really special place since we got married.”

They started at the chorus, plugging in brand names, with nearly every phrase heading toward the end-of-the-line, melodic sweet spot on the way to the hook: “Put her in the middle of some acres.” The setup line was a bit of a challenge, though Sanders solved the puzzle during a break when he got the line, “My baby loves it when I take her,” along with a staccato melody.

“When I found that it worked at the end of the chorus, in the middle of the chorus and the end of the verse, and placed all three in the same places with the same melody, it somehow became the glue that glues everything together,” says Sanders. “Once we got that, it was kind of like it just wrote itself.”

With that solved, they started working on the verses, where they instinctively altered the sound. The melody shifted to a curvy landscape, and they left more space between the lines.

“Selfishly, as a singer, you have to have some time to breathe,” Kelley says.

For the listener, it provided enough variance from the rapid-fire chorus to keep it interesting, though still feeling like it naturally connected to the chorus.

“If you’re part of a song where [the verse] isn’t different enough, just trust me when I say you don’t want to listen,” says Weatherly. “You don’t want to hear the chorus a million times over if the verse sounds like the same melody.”

They created more variation at the bridge, where a building melody naturally leads the listener back to one more run through the chorus. The bridge also allows a subtle reference to “something rolled in a pay-per.”

“That just had to be in there somewhere,” Weatherly says. “That’s too aggressive for the verses and the chorus, but you can kind of tuck that into the bridge and maybe people won’t notice. And if they do, then they’re kind of like, ‘Light one up for us.’ ”

Sanders sang lead for Weatherly’s demo, built around acoustic guitar and programmed drums. It provided a great template when Huff cut instrumental tracks with Kelley at Nashville’s Sound Stage. They speeded the tempo up a few clicks, and Evan Hutching’s punchy drums, Ilya Toshinskiy’s ringing acoustic guitar and some electric guitar chunking provided layers of rhythm underneath the verses’ leisurely melody. At the chorus, the electric guitars morphed into heavier block chords to avoid clashing with Kelley.

“When you get in the chorus, it’s such a rapid-fire lyric,” says Huff. “We probably tried some little jangle parts and stuff like that, but ultimately, you do not want to be drawn away from the vocal at that point.”

A song about outdoors life needed some distinctly country flavor, so during overdubs, Huff brought in fiddler Jenee Fleenor and put her in the middle of “Acres,” playing a simple solo with appropriate sonic flavor. “I thought it was badass,” Weatherly says of Huff’s production. 

Kelley’s wife, Brittney, thought so, too, believing it showcased her spouse better than any other solo track he has recorded to date. “When I come in on that first verse,” says Kelley, “she goes, ‘Man, that’s my husband. Heck, I’m going to turn that thing up.’ ”

He made “Acres” the opening track on Tennessee Truth, which Big Machine released on May 10, and it earned immediate positive feedback. The label sent it to country radio via PlayMPE one month later, and Kelley is optimistic that it will help to further set him apart.

“Hopefully,” he says, “fans will start being able to identify with BK.” 

Powered by Billboard.

Related Articles

Back to top button