“Find the music that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.”

That was the sound advice a music teacher gave Gabriel Kelley when the Georgia folkie was just a teenager, still discovering the joys of music, developing his own particular tastes, and only beginning to realize that he could do more than just play along with his favorite songs. Those words have become Kelley’s life mission not only as an avid listener but also as a singer-songwriter who writes from the heart and strives to connect with his audiences on a deeply personal level.

That mission has taken him around the world: from the family farm in rural Georgia to music school in Sweden, from a songwriting company in Nashville to street corners and clubs in every city in America. Along the way he played more shows than he can count, some on street corners and other in concert halls. With a voice defined by its plaintive grain and a lyrical style that is both evocative and straightforward, Kelley has recorded the critically acclaimed album It Don’t Come Easy, with another—Lighter Shades of Blue—on the way this fall. Most of all, he has matured into a homegrown artist with a grassroots following.

“There was a moment when I decided that if I didn’t mean what I was saying, I have absolutely no reason to be onstage,” he says. “That was a defining moment, and it’s tattooed on my heart.” And now he’s embarking on a new act in his picaresque career: a new album coming out this fall, a new tour of Sweden, and a feted appearance on the award-winning television show Jills veranda, hosted by the Swedish country singer Jill Johnson. Yet, even with all that he has accomplished, Kelley remains a student: always open to new lessons, new challenges, and new inspiration. “All I’m doing is trying to write the most heartfelt songs I can. I’m getting up every day and doing that in as many places as I can and in as many ways as I can.”