Marrying the hardscrabble poetry of alt-country troubadours with the moodiness of alternative singer/songwriters, Ruston Kelly cut a unique figure in Nashville at the tail end of the 2010s. His relationship with Kacey Musgraves — the pair met at the Bluebird Café in 2016 and married the following year — may have earned him some headlines, but he built his reputation as a songwriter, writing "Nashville Without You" for Tim McGraw in 2013. As a performer, he moved toward the fringes of mainstream country, a shift notable on his 2017 debut EP, Halloween, and its 2018 full-length follow-up, Dying Star.
Ruston Kelly was born in South Carolina but he spent his childhood moving from town to town due to his father, whose job at a paper mill required him to relocate every few years. As a child and teenager, Kelly competed as a figure skater. His skating took him to Michigan when he was 14. Staying with a host family, Kelly began to dip his toes into songwriting, and his interest deepened when he moved with his own family to Belgium toward the end of his high-school years, returning to the States when he was 17, settling in Nashville with his sister. Slowly, he started carving out a career as a songwriter, signing a publishing deal with BMG Nashville in 2013. That year, he placed "Nashville Without You" with Tim McGraw, who recorded it for the album Two Lanes of Freedom.
Kelly played in the jam band Elmwood but he slowly built a reputation as a songwriter in the mid-2010s, thanks to collaborations with Josh Abbott and Hayes Carll. Additionally, he gained recognition as the boyfriend of Kacey Musgraves; the pair married in October 2017.
Signing with Razor & Tie's Washington Square Music, Kelly released his debut EP, Halloween, in 2017. Produced by Mike Mogis, who previously worked with Jenny Lewis and Bright Eyes, the EP earned strong reviews and attention on streaming services, and Kelly's momentum increased when "Asshole" started to make viral waves in April 2018. By that point, he signed with Rounder and finished his full-length debut, Dying Star, a record co-produced by Jarrad K and recorded at El Paso's Sonic Ranch. Dying Star appeared in September 2018. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine