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Review: Josh Kelly country transition a rocky one

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Josh Kelley, "Georgia Clay" (MCA Nashville)

Of all the former pop and rock artists to go country in recent years, Josh Kelley needed to change the least. Kelley's previous hits, 2003's "Amazing" and 2005's "Only You" were positive love songs set to acoustic arrangements, with lyrics that would've fit comfortably on country radio.

For his Nashville debut, "Georgia Clay," Kelley drops his one-time reliance on soulful rhythms reminiscent of Jack Johnson. Instead, he now emphasizes sweet melodies and mildly dramatic arrangements, similar to those of brother Charles Kelley's trio, Lady Antebellum.

As in the past, Kelley connects strongest on love songs, as might be expected for a songwriter with a muse like actress Katherine Heigl, whom he married in 2007. Kelley's relaxed baritone lends sincerity to mid-tempo romantic odes like "Learning You" and "Baby Blue Eyes."

Like many country converts, Kelley strains to establish his credentials. The title song draws on his Georgia roots, but the details are too generic to paint a convincing picture of who he is. Similarly, "Rainin' Whiskey" falls flat from a reliance on a silly allegory unlikely to connect with honky-tonkers or weekend partiers.

Kelley's transition succeeds best on tunes that evolve naturally from his past work _ grown-up, mature songs about relationships and maintaining a sunny outlook on day-to-day life.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: On "Naleigh Moon," Kelley shows more vocal range and a more poetic disposition, in a loving lyric inspired by the baby daughter he and his wife adopted in 2009.

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