White Noise/White Lines
Oh Boy Records
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[READ our interview with Kelsey Waldon here]
There's a beautiful moment toward the end of Kelsey Waldon's "Lived and Let Go" from her third studio album White Noise/White Lines. The song is a plea for class unity, with a lilting Appalachian melody. Less than 30 seconds before the song concludes, Waldon boldly launches into the song's wide chorus, her voice barely turning into a yodel, for just a second, before quickly retreating. It could almost be an inadvertent vocal crack, but it's powerful because the fleeting moment resonates with honesty, feeling delightfully unplanned, yet still included in the final recording. It's the perfect metaphor for the album.
Waldon's story could almost be an episode of Nashville. The Kentucky product went to Nashville—the city—as a teen, looking for fame and fortune, only to return home, becoming the first person in her family to graduate college. She eventually made her way back to Nashville, bartending to make ends meet as her career slowly picked up, culminating with an invitation by the legendary singer-songwriter John Prine to sign to his label. And in true Nashville/Nashville style, the invitation came on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.
Despite the cinematic tale, White Noise/White Lines is authentic and down home. Waldon's voice comes at you in waves of pure country with a twang as strong as an oak tree. Her vocals are lovely and powerful, almost like a Dolly Parton crushed but not flattened by the weight and disappointment of contemporary America. Waldon doesn't come across as angry, even on "Lived and Let Go." But she seems unwilling to compromise.
Waldon's voice is defiantly candid. The tracks are all heavily rooted in country, but even when she moves into more of a pop mode melodically, her voice refuses to give in. It makes for some compelling tracks. Like "Kentucky, 1988," Waldon's tale of childhood. The melody strives for pop, but her vocals remain rooted in the south, almost like she's stuck in Stranger Things era Kentucky. "Sunday's Children" pushes things even further, with a soulful groove punctuated with the gentle cries of pedal steel. The pedal steel, and of course Waldon, are the only indications this is a country track. But the effect is reassuring. Waldon knows who she is and won't try to change. Even on a pop song.
Waldon's comfort as a singer is impressive. She seems equally at home experimenting with pop as she is with the many country songs she features. There's never a feeling she's juggling personas. Instead, the energy across the album is of a talented singer-songwriter very much in touch with herself, and also able to fluently express that same self. When Waldon takes on Ola Belle Reed’s "My Epitaph," the song and melody are recognizable, but the grandeur and scale are all Waldon.
It's convenient to latch on to the Prine connection, because her sense of self is positively Prine-esque. There's a certain irony in discussing an artist's strength-of-voice in the context of the voice of another artist. Waldon stands on her own, though. There's a perfection to her vocals, but it's not a perfection that comes from overly polishing. Instead, the perfection comes from Waldon's willingness to reveal everything about herself to her audience, cracks and yodels be damned.
Notable Tracks: "Kentucky, 1988" | “Lived and Let Go” | "My Epitaph" | “Sunday’s Children”