“I’ve always said that, if George Jones sang on a disco song, I think it’d still be country. If it’s a part of who you are, it’s a part of who you are.” Rising country artist Kelsey Waldon is responsible for this quote and it’s one of the first things you’ll see if you visit her site. It’s the kind of remark I’ve heard numerous country artists say. Some can back this up, while others are blowing smoke. And I can assure you Kelsey Waldon is someone who can back it up with her music. Waldon burst onto people’s radars with her debut album The Gold Mine in 2014. It received lots of critical acclaim and put her on the map amongst independent country fans. She’s a student of the genre and when you hear her voice, it’s undoubtedly made to sing country songs. While she may not have the hype and coverage of other major independent country artists, I can confidently say she’s one of the best up and coming artists in the genre. Waldon is one of country music’s best kept secrets. She returns with her sophomore album I’ve Got A Way, produced by Michael Rinne (who also produced The Gold Mine). I think though after people hear this album she won’t be much of a secret any longer because talent and music like this does not go unnoticed.
Prominent pedal steel guitar plays in “Dirty Old Town.” It really continues throughout the song and really the whole album. That’s a pretty good sign you’re listening to a fantastic country record. The song is about holding onto your dreams and goals when living in a less than desirable environment, a dirty old small town. Waldon stays in this same determined vein on “All By Myself.” She takes on the relationship impositions by society and sings about how she can be just fine by herself and out of a relationship. It’s a gritty, no-holds barred song about how a woman doesn’t need a man in her life to be herself. This is not so much a woman empowerment anthem, but more telling society norms to piss off. “You Can Have It” is another song where Waldon tells people to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine. She also sings about how you have to be a bigger person nowadays with more negative people in the world and learn to be content with yourself. In an election year, this feels pretty timely.
The quick hitting “False King” is one of my personal favorites on I’ve Got A Way. It’s a somewhat subtle commentary on mainstream country, as Waldon not so lightly skewers the approach of these artists. She sings of doing it right and not letting the jealousy of their fame and fortune not get to her. The hook of the song is brilliant, as Waldon stingingly sings, “Well you can’t place the crown on the head of a clown and then hope that he turns out to be a king.” While the country protest song is played out, this one comes from an honest place and that’s where the best music comes from. The waltzing “Don’t Hurt The Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most)” sees Waldon slowing it down and showing a more subdued side. The song is about how no matter how far you go in life and the places you go, don’t forget about and don’t hurt your loved ones who will always be there for you. It’s a heartfelt message accompanied by some great steel guitar play. These are the humbling themes that need to be sung about more in country music.
“I’d Rather Go On” is your classic country breakup song. While it’s a theme all country fans have heard endlessly, Waldon puts a lot of emotion behind the song and I found it easy to connect with upon the first listen. A song doesn’t have to be complicated for it to be great and this is a perfect example. Waldon covers Vern and Rex Gosdin’s “There Must Be A Someone” next. I can say it’s one of the more depressing songs I’ve heard this year. But this isn’t a bad thing. Quite the contrary, as it’s refreshing to listen to after hearing all the bubblegum, fantasy-based songs on radio. This is a song about feeling alone in life and feeling abandoned by your friends. You feel desperate to find someone you can turn to and connect with to ward off the feeling of darkness and share a bond. It’s human to want a sense of togetherness and this song captures this darkly honest feeling with aplomb.
Waldon swings it back to the positive side on “Let’s Pretend.” It’s about seeking forgiveness for your mistakes and acknowledging that sometimes life doesn’t go the way you would like it. Instead of running from though, you should embrace them and take responsibility. In the end you can then turn a negative situation into a positive one, which seems to be the overwhelming message of the song. Regardless, Waldon once again captures the feelings and situations of real life. “Life Moves Slow” is another song where Waldon sings of getting away from the harshness of real life. She relishes being able to get away from the fast-paced, hustle and bustle of reality to places where life moves slow and allows her to take it all in. It’s one of the lighter-hearted songs on the album, although it’s a nice reprieve after many moments of emotional heaviness in the album.
Waldon hits another home run with her cover of Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” This is one of those songs that a review can’t do justice and you need to hear for yourself to truly appreciate it. It’s a true outlaw song about heartbreak and living the lonesome life that fits Kelsey Waldon perfectly. The gritty steel guitars ring throughout this song and Waldon delivers her best vocal performance on the album. It was a fantastic choice by Waldon to cover this song, as it brings out the absolute best in her. I’ve Got A Way ends with “The Heartbreak.” It’s a somber tune about the emotional toll the end of a relationship can have on a person. But it also highlights the positives that can come from it, allowing you to learn and become who you are today. While this pain may really hurt, in the end it can shape your life for the better. This song will be an emotional bomb for anyone who has experienced heartbreak. I don’t think you could end this album with a more excellent song.
There’s not much else to say about Kelsey Waldon’s I’ve Got A Way. It’s an amazing album that is 110% country goodness. You simply have to hear it for yourself. This album has no bells or whistles about it. It doesn’t rely on trends and clichés in its songwriting. This is three chords and the truth right here. The instrumentation and production couldn’t be more well-arranged on each song and Waldon just belts it on each track. The songwriting is forthright, honest and cutting. It’s one of the best albums I’ve listened to this year and it will be a strong contender for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. If you haven’t heard this album yet, you need to hear it. I’ve Got A Way excels in every area and every song. You can’t get a country album much better than this one.