Thinking about country music, Kelsey Waldon muses, “If it’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of who you are.” And country music is very much a part of who she is, a part of who she's always been. The Kentucky singer/songwriter hails from Monkey's Eyebrow, in rural Ballard County where her family put down roots several generations ago. Even so, Waldon's musical tastes reach well beyond those borders, as evidenced on her new release, I’ve Got a Way.
Waldon was 13 when her parents divorced and, inspired by the music surrounding her, she started playing guitar as a means to make it through her teen years. Upon her arrival in Music City a few years later, Waldon toiled away 45+ hours a week in a minimum wage job and played gigs in any bar that would let her in the door and on the stage. Once she had a pocket full of songs, she released her debut album in 2014, The Goldmine. The set was met with open arms from both critics and lovers of the kind of country music that she makes — the kind born in bars and raised in honky-tonks, the kind leaning on pedal steel and driven by Telecaster.
As solid as the effort was, its follow-up isn't just a next step, it's a forward leap. After all, when you're a songwriter, a couple of years can contain a lifetime of lessons. And that wisdom is what seeps through on her sophomore effort which, like The Goldmine, was produced by Michael Rinne. For Waldon, “It’s a transition in letting go and also being absolutely comfortable in your own skin.”
Indeed, the newfound confidence and compassion with which she inhabits her place in the world comes through loud and clear on original cuts like “All by Myself,” “Don't Hurt the Ones (Who've Loved You the Most),” and “Life Moves Slow,” as well as her arrangements of Vern and Rex Gosdin's “There Must Be a Someone” and Bill Monroe's “Traveling Down This Lonesome Road.”
Perhaps because it was one of the first songs Waldon wrote this go-around,“All By Myself,” in particular, stands out as something of a thesis statement for the rest of the album, if not for life, in general. As she explains, “It is not a lecture, or a sermon, or a statement from me. I want it to be a statement for everyone, as a whole: The power is only inside of ourselves.”
Because no country record would be complete without a proper kiss-off cut, Waldon scratched out her own entry in that milieu with "You Can Have It." That kind of personal empowerment comes up time and again across I’ve Got a Way. In "Let's Pretend," that power emerges through the act of focusing on the good and choosing the kind as part of what Waldom describes as “a 'Storms Never Last' mentality” to relationships.
Closing the collection are "Traveling Down This Lonesome Road," which stands as her hard-edged hat tip to Bill Monroe and the music she grew up on, and “The Heartbreak,” which shows she can deliver a weeper, to boot. But this isn't the standard woe-is-me fare. Here, too, is a message of empowerment and empathy.
So, how does Waldon turn her messages into the country music that is so much a part of her? “Lay it all out, and sing it from the heart, way down deep,” she says. “If you do it that way, you don’t need gimmicks.”