Best Albums of 2016: Kelsey Waldon’s wise, feisty sophomore record ‘I’ve Got A Way’

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Monkey’s Eyebrow native Kelsey Waldon released her sophomore record “I’ve Got A Way” in August. The singer/songwriter is based in Nashville. Photo by Laura Partain.

Nashville-based country songwriter Kelsey Waldon hasn’t lost the drawl she picked up in rural Western Kentucky. Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky to be exact. She wears it like a proud talisman, a reminder of her rural roots. Like a prized artifact Waldon treasures of her great-grandmother Maurice Rollins. It’s a black and white photograph of Rollins, acoustic guitar in hand, Depression-Era gaze looking the camera square in the lens. She hasn’t forgotten the formative days spent at her dad’s hunting lodge or the hard times that shaped her outlaw country edge. Those memories, the bad ones and the golden ones, molded her wise-beyond-her years aura. Her stint in Nashville hasn’t weakened the family bonds she holds dear, her likeness for Western Kentucky–the rural characters and setting she uses as a lens for her sharp brand of Americana and roots music. Waldon’s authenticity and old school country sound places her among a talented crop of Nashville songwriters who are dedicated to crafting country music that would make the legends of the genre flash a toothy-grin (Artists like Margo Price, Sturgill Simpson, Caitlin Rose immediately come to mind) Waldon’s sophomore album “I’ve Got A Way,” is a collection of songs that sound like they could’ve ruled the airwaves in the 1960s and 1970s.

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Waldon’s 2014 debut “The Goldmine” was passed out around like a well-kept secret, critically-adored but not a mainstream success in terms of country airplay. “I’ve Got A Way,” is a strong progression for the petite, tough-as-nails country songwriter who oozes old-soul wisdom. The crack in her voice, at times aching, other times irresistibly feisty, (like she’s a couple whiskey drinks in) brings to life devastating heartbreak, but also the peace that resides in moving on as she inches closer to actualizing her full potential.

“I’ve Got A Way,” embraces the power of forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean Waldon abandoned her fighting side.

“I’ve been fighting with my left side, fighting with my right side / Fighting with everything I’ve got,” she howls with resilience in rowdy honky-tonk ditty “Dirty Old Town”.

The Kentuckian’s trademark tenacity is on display again in “All By Myself,” which begins with an atmospheric, sinister sound. Waldon pointedly sings “When you wanted to be you needed somebody else / I can be me all by myself.” The song is cathartic,  a bold declaration Waldon’s doing fine all by her damn self.

Waldon’s smoldering cover of Kentucky legend Bill Monroe’s “Travelin Down This Lonesome Road,” sounds like it’s being blared from a record machine in the 1940s, giving the tune her own flair while maintaining the allure of a lost, golden era.

“My mind drifts back to you sweetheart,” Waldon croons to a flame gone cold, showcasing the vocals and grit that make her one of country’s coolest, most compelling voices.

One of the records’s most powerful moments is slow-burning album closer “The Heartbreak”. Waldon makes peace with an ex, recalling the memories that often haunt scorned lovers in painstaking detail. She details the mornings when she couldn’t muster the strength to get out of bed. The pain of facing her reflection in the mirror, jilted by a love gone awry. She goes on to thank her old flame for making her endure the pain, because instead of making her bitter, the turmoil was necessary, albeit gut-wrenching. The song is a powerful lesson in growing up and moving on gracefully. “One day we’ll all meet in the middle somewhere,” she laments in a bittersweet tone.

Waldon’s sophomore album is a vibrant collection of country music that is best heard in smoky bars, be it a rambunctious Nashville Honky Tonk, or a hole in the wall joint in Nowhere, Kentucky. “I’ve Got A Way,” is a bold statement from Waldon, catering only to her old-fashioned tastes and knack for crafting genuine vignettes that center on rural life, and claiming one’s personhood in the wake of devastation. The record further cements the rising country star as a leading voice female voice in country music-in a year where a slew of female country voices released masterpieces (like Margo Price’s gritty breakthrough “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” and Miranda Lambert’s anxiously-awaited post-divorce double-album “The Weight of These Wings”.)  Waldon has only scathed the surface of her talents two records into her budding career. The Kentuckian is one of Nashville’s brightest talents, and she’s just getting started.

Rating: 9/10

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