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Kelsey Waldon

White Noise/White Lines – 2019 (Oh Boy)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Kelsey Waldon

Her first two albums earned Kentucky native Kelsey Waldon a lot of attention for her down-to-earth, slice of life songs delivered in a hard-edged, working class baritone and backed by ethereal, retro arrangements that resonated of '50s-era jukeboxes across the south and west. John Prine is not Kentucky-born (though as anyone who's familiar with his song "Paradise" knows, his roots run deep in the Bluegrass State), but he was impressed enough to add Waldon to the roster of his Oh Boy label for this new release, and she delivers with more of the same.

Comparisons between Waldon and another Kentucky icon, Loretta Lynn are almost inevitable. There are similarities in the tone and phrasing of the vocals, and they both write about the day-to-reality of their lives (the "white noise" of the title track refers to the swirling background around us that we sometimes have to step back from and pay attention to), but there are key differences. While Loretta's signature song "Coal Miner's Daughter" echoes her upbringing in the coal fields of the eastern part of the state, Waldon's hometown of Monkey's Eyebrow is at the other end, nestled in a bend of the Ohio River just upstream from the junction with the Mississippi. In "Kentucky, 1988" she sings of an upbringing that featured brown trailers, S-10 Chevys and arrowheads in the dirt. It wasn't always pretty or easy, but she still "wouldn't have it any other way."

In "Lived and Let Go" Waldon sings "From the high mountain, to the old western river," a line that may strike a chord among fans of the older country sounds as a call-back to Ola Belle Reed's "High On A Mountain," and in fact, she closes out the disc with one of the better versions of Reed's "My Epitaph," a haunting ode to the need to share love and life to the fullest while we're here, and not worry too much about what's coming after. Still young and in the early years of her career, Kelsey Waldon seems to have gotten that message.