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Friday, November 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
A&E >  Music

Singer-songwriter duo Casey Kelly, Leslie Ellis to share songs, stories during Spokane show

Leslie Ellis, left, and Casey Kelly bring their album “The Long Road to You” to the Bing on Thursday. (Tennille Melcher)
Leslie Ellis, left, and Casey Kelly bring their album “The Long Road to You” to the Bing on Thursday. (Tennille Melcher)

Singers Casey Kelly and Leslie Ellis, a married couple who perform together as Kelly & Ellis, have a bucket list for their upcoming visit to Spokane.

On the list? Hit the Northwest Ale Trail and try a burger at Dick’s. They’d also like to see the waterfalls and try the wine, and they have their fingers crossed for a moose sighting.

As only two musicians could, the pair presented its Spokane bucket list on its Facebook page as a song written to the tune of a new song they’re working on. In the song, the pair also sings about their hopes for their Thursday show at the Bing Crosby Theater.

“At the Bing Crosby Theater, we’ll make new friends/Might even meet and greet before the evening ends/Sing our hearts out and we’ll have some laughs/Maybe they will even ask us back,” they sing.

Songs and laughter is a good way to describe what fans can expect to hear, as Kelly and Ellis will share the, at times, almost unbelievable stories from their careers and behind their most popular tunes, which they’ve collected on their debut album “The Long Road to You,” during their Spokane concert.

Before they were Kelly & Ellis, they were known for their solo singing and songwriting.

Grammy-nominated Kelly wrote “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight” for Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, “The Cowboy Rides Away” for George Strait and “Soon” for Tanya Tucker.

Ellis starred as Grizabella in “Cats” on Broadway, singing “Memory” night after night, and won a Grammy with Céline Dion for “My Heart Will Go On.”

It wasn’t until a writers round in 2004 at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe that the pair met. But, like a scene from a movie, the meeting almost didn’t happen.

Kelly almost forgot about the writers round and showed up just before showtime, taking the seat next to Ellis.

“He showed up at the last minute with all his cords and his harmonica and cables in a Wild Oats paper shopping bag,” Ellis said. “Completely almost missed the boat there.”

Kelly quickly got set up and warmed up by playing snippets of songs he’d written, which Ellis immediately recognized.

“She starts telling me ‘I know your songs. You mind if I sing along?’” Kelly said.

The pair exchanged cards that night – Ellis was hoping to get demo work – and have been performing together ever since.

Before they knew it, the pair, as a trio with musician Todd Cerney, was performing across the Southeast United States and in Europe.

But Cerney was diagnosed with melanoma and died about four months later.

Things ground to a halt for Kelly and Ellis after Cerney’s death. The pair didn’t play music for several months and when they were ready to start performing again, they weren’t sure if they should try to find a new member and continue as a trio.

“It took a long time to evolve to saying ‘Look, we’re not getting any younger. Let’s do a project where we do what we do’ which is yes, singing songs we’ve written, but also talking about these experiences we’ve had,” Ellis said.

That project eventually became “The Long Road to You,” which features Kelly and Ellis’ most well-known songs plus other songs from the pair’s pasts including “A House I Once Loved In,” “Just Ask Me,” “(I Ain’t Just) a Pretty Face” and “Tennessee Whiskey” (not to be confused with the George Jones song of the same name).

Instead of recording the songs as they were originally written, the pair decided to reinvent each song for “The Long Road to You.”

A song of Kelly’s turned into a call-and-response tune a la Ike and Tina Turner’s “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” and Ellis’ take on “My Heart Will Go On” became much softer thanks to a new guitar part Kelly wrote.

“All of a sudden I realized instead of it being an anthem to my heart will go on, it’s more like a prayer to a lost loved one,” Ellis said. “It’s very personal now. It’s not so public.”

Like the album, the pair’s live shows have evolved over time. Though the music is the main focus, the pair is open to seeing what happens from night to night as it shares stories about the long road that brought them together.

“We’ll get into a conversation with the audience and it becomes a moment, and we think, ‘Wow, we need to do that. That needs to be part of this,’ ” Kelly said. “We’ve just let it tell us what it wants to be.”

The pair anticipates they will let its next record, still a year or two down the line, dictate what it wants to be, though they imagine it will feature songs they’ve co-written.

For now, the pair is focused on promoting “The Long Road to You” via live shows and videos the pair is working to produce.

And, like they sung in their Spokane bucket list song, Kelly and Ellis are also hoping this album helps them make new friends.

“We’re on this journey to go on these adventures and find our people and find out about their towns and find them in living rooms and listening rooms and theaters and share with them these stories and songs,” Ellis said.

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