Album Review – Kelsey Waldon’s ‘I’ve Got A Way’

Kelsey Waldon I've Got A Way

“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.

Grade: 10/10

Album Review – The Roys’ The View

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Early in September, brother-sister duo, The Roys, released their fifth studio album titled The View. They are a busy duo, releasing five albums in six years, but Lee and Elaine Roy have marked their territory in the bluegrass genre. The duo won ICM’s (Inspirational Country Music) Artist of the Year award for three consecutive years from 2011-2013, and this 11 track, completely original studio album shows why. At least one of the sibling’s is a credited co-writer on every track alongside country legends and contemporaries including Bill Anderson and Josh Thompson. The View is pure bluegrass with impressive fiddle and mandolin instrumentation, great songwriting, and beautiful vocals from both Lee and Elaine.

Best Songs on The Album

There are several strong tracks on The View. The first standout track is “Those Boots” a song about hardworking men who’ve made impression in jobs where they wear boots. The first verse is about a farmer, the second a military man serving overseas, and the third verse is about a country singer. The chorus ties each of these stories together about how their respective stories are deeper and have put in more work than a simple boot print in the dirt will show. The song immediately following this song is “Heaven Needed Her More.” Co-written with Josh Thompson, Lee Roy sings a song about accepting the passing of an unnamed woman, most likely a mother or grandmother. The point of the song is that there is a grander plan to life, even though it’s tough to say goodbye to this person. The song has simple instrumentation driven by a fiddle and accompanied by an acoustic guitar, but the quality lyrics and story telling show why this duo has an impressive collection of inspirational music hardware. The third song, and arguably the best on the whole record, is “Sometimes.” It’s a heartbreaking song about an older woman who is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. The verses of this song detail the things that lead to the diagnosis with lines like “It started with a simple missed appointment.” The choruses of the song are memories of this woman “Sometimes she’s running in an open field of clover,” and the chorus ends with the wonderful, yet heartbreaking line “In her mind she’s still there, sometimes.” Depending on how you listen to that line, you can infer that “there” is her mind in the present or her mind is “there” as in her memories. The double meaning infused in that one line is great storytelling, and can allow the listener to feel differently with each listen.

Worst Song on The Album

This album is pretty good. There wasn’t a song that really jumped out at me as “bad” or “awful.” “Black Gold” is the only song that really didn’t do much for me. It’s a song about a man who worked 72 hours a week in a gold mine up until his death. There isn’t much of a chorus to the song, and the verses are essentially just a short biography of the workaholic coal miner. There’s nothing really stand out about the song.

The Rest of The Album

The album kicks off with “No More Lonely” in which Elaine Roy sings about how falling in love has helped her find joy in life again. “Live The Life You Love” is a rather simple, cliché song about the adage “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” The siblings add in a few lines about how you should provide for your family and give thanks to the Lord for what you have. The album’s title track is a small town song the duo wrote with Bill Anderson. Outside of other small town songs in country music, “The View” is more about a short visit back home after being away for an extended period of time. Elaine beautifully sings about the sights of home that she loves. “No More Tears Left to Cry” is about getting through a break up. “Mended Wings” is another inspirational song about God’s grace and getting to heaven after death despite the sins in life. A well-written song that again shows why The Roys have the awards they do from ICM. The album wraps up with “Mandolin Man.” A good song written as a tribute to the one and only Bill Monroe. The chorus is rather repetitive, but overall it’s a good song to close this album out.

Overall Thoughts

This album is solid from start to finish. The Roys and their band have great instrumentation within every song. In fact, “Northern Skies” is a two and half-minute instrumental that is an excellent showcase of those skills. Bluegrass fans should enjoy this album. Even if you’re not a big fan of bluegrass music, I think you’ll be able to find a song or two worth listening to more than once. The Roys just signed with one of Nashville’s top talent agencies, Buddy Lee Attractions. With their skilled musicianship and a solid album to promote here with The View, both parties should stay busy and see continued success with their future shows.

Grade: 9/10

Album Review – The Secret Sisters’ Put Your Needle Down

Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans.

The Best Songs on the Album

Laura and Lydia grew up singing a cappella in their church, and that history and practice of vocal harmonizing doesn’t go unnoticed here. The sisters show off a great vocal range throughout the whole album and they blend their voices together beautifully on every song, especially in “Bad Habit.” The sisters trade lines and verses throughout the song and echo the lines of the song’s outro. This is one of the few songs on the album in which they give listeners a unique, give and take vocal performance, and The Secret Sisters do not let that opportunity go to waste. The song itself is a well-written tune about an addiction. They drop lines that make it fairly clear that this addiction is to a man, but a few verse lines and primarily the chorus leave room for listeners to cast whatever bad habit he or she has onto this song. “Black and Blue” is another song that allows the listener to interpret meaning for him or herself. On the surface, is a song where a female laments over the idea of her man leaving her; she wants another chance from him. But lines like “I’m black and blue worrying over you” lead this reviewer to believe that perhaps he may be abusive and she may be submissive to that abuse. The song is written vaguely enough to allow for this open interpretation without taking away from the surface meaning of loss and heartbreak. Also the impressive Motown groove of the melody helps cover that potentially dark undertone of the lyrics.

In songs where the story is clear, The Secret Sisters drive that story home with their melodies. “Iuka” (which was recently performed on The Tonight Show) introduces us to a young couple in love. Her father is short-tempered and abusive and doesn’t want his daughter to marry, so the couple travels to Iuka, Mississippi to elope. However, the angry father chases this couple until he catches them and the sisters drive the point home with the lyric “two headstones for two lovers who finally got away.” Laura and Lydia cover PJ Harvey’s “The Pocket Knife”, a song about a young woman not wanting to get married despite her mother and suitor’s wish. It’s likely the situation in the song is an arranged marriage and the young girl in the song simply wants independence in her life. They sing this song with an angry passion that’s felt throughout the entire track. It’s worth noting the album’s namesake is a lyric from this song. Both these tracks have heavy, dark moods driven by screeching fiddles, hard-hitting percussions and intense guitar strums. The best part about these songs is that The Secret Sisters keep their perfectly harmonized vocals present in the midst of the heavy instrumentation.

The Worst Songs on the Album

There honestly isn’t a song here that I found bad or worth calling out for a lesser quality. Each song has its own unique value that it brings to the production as a whole.

The Rest of the Album

Besides their harmonies, the one other feature that stood out on this album was the percussion of every song. The tambourines and drums throughout the whole record are outstanding. In fact, the instrumentation as a whole is exceptional. The seasoned production of T Bone Burnett is felt in every song on Put Your Needle Down. They sing Motown (“Black and Blue” “I Cannot Find a Way”), blues (“Bad Habit”), rock (“The Pocket Knife” “Iuka” “Rattle My Bones”), country (“If I Don’t”, “Let There Be Lonely”, “River Jordan”); and The Secret Sisters sound natural on every track. “Dirty Lie” is the song that Bob Dylan had started years ago and sent to the sisters to finish. Laura and Lydia work with Dylan’s draft, and work their own voice into the lyrics to while intermixing their additions naturally to what Mr. Dylan began years ago. “Lonely Island” and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” are two tracks that have a 50s feel and are filled with more great harmonization and writing. After an album of mostly covers (and well done cover songs, I might add), The Secret Sisters step up to the challenge and establish themselves as artists capable of delivering great original content to a growing fan base. Most artists who undertake an album where they jump into four or five different genres may stumble and fall with the choppy nature of the tall order, but not The Secret Sisters. Laura and Lydia have the vocal gifts to effortlessly deliver authentic sounding songs in every genre they touch, matched with a great production to sell that authenticity.

Overall Thoughts

In the Rolling Stone article linked above, Lydia Rogers says if you can’t categorize your music, then you’re not following a formula or musical trends, which means that your music is truly something special. And that’s what Put Your Needle Down is; it’s something special. This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

Grade: 10/10