Although there are exceptions to the rule, there’s no hiding the reality that women artists generally have a harder time making an impact on the Texas country and Red Dirt music landscape their male counterparts. It may not be fair, but — due to fans (male and female alike) who for whatever reason are stubborn to accept women singers and songwriters, and club owners who are set in the belief that “chick singers don’t draw” — it’s just the way it is. But although Kristen Kelly has certainly been around the scene long enough to know the daunting obstacles ahead of her, she doesn’t sound discouraged at all on Placekeeper, her second album with the Modern Day Drifters and first with her name on the title.

Kelly began her career as a back-up singer and co-writer with artists like Brandon Jenkins and Stoney LaRue (with whom she co-wrote “Down in Flames,” which all three artists have recorded.) Kelly’s version was on the Modern Day Drifters’ 2008 debut, The Highway is My Home, an album on which she shared lead singer duties with another Drifter, Joe Churchill. But Churchill is now out of the picture, and though the Modern Day Drifters are still very much a band (comprised of guitarists Derrick Dutton and Joshua Roberts, drummer Brady Miller and bassist Jimmy Kinerd), it’s Kelly who now stands front and center in the spotlight. And based on the strength of her original songs and vocal chops, she’s earned it. Placekeeper, (which Kelly also produced) is an eclectic and powerful mix of rock ingenuity, country simplicity, and passionate singing that will keep your heart guessing and your mind reeling. If you are searching for songs that speak directly about finding love, losing love, finding yourself and the tremulous road that connects all these points, you will find them all right here. Vocally, Kelly displays not only the power of a belter like Carrie Underwood, but also an edgy defiance akin to Miranda Lambert. She’s not afraid of putting herself out there for the sake of the song and giving the listener a revealing glimpse of who she really is and where she’s coming from — both as an artist, and as a confident young woman who’s more than ready to stake her claim in a man’s world. — LINDSAY ROTHROCK