One of the more arresting tunes on Kelsey Waldon’s sophomore album is “All By Myself.” In fact, it commands attention before you even listen to it.
Take the title at face value and you might think the song was a typical country music lament, a heartbreak reflection of being emotively cast aside.
Give the song a spin and you discover that’s not exactly what the Western Kentucky native had in mind. It begins with an acoustic guitar riff that is slight but dark. The story does indeed suggest a jilted romance. But what emerges, in a voice that both figuratively and literally suggests early Dolly Parton, reveals the title as a proclamation of identity and independence.
“I can be me all by myself.”
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“I’ve definitely been refining my sound more and more,” said Waldon, who celebrates the release of her new album, “I’ve Got a Way,” with a Sunday performance at Willie’s Locally Known. “My musical tastes have expanded as well. So I’ve just kept in the fight to keep creating music that I love.”
I really took to music at a super young age. I was probably around 5 when I started showing interest. My family was like, ‘OK, this is really special.’
Though now situated in Nashville, Waldon’s ultra-traditional country sound, not to mention her sense of artistic independence, is a product of a prideful Kentucky upbringing. She even named the label/imprint used to issue “I’ve Got a Way” after Monkey’s Eyebrow, her rural Ballard County homeland.
“Just like any other good Kentuckian, I am very proud to be from the Bluegrass State. There is so much rich music that has come out of that region. I was influenced by a lot of it growing up.
“My dad always listened to a lot of classic rock in his truck, but he also loved country. My granddaddy was all about Waylon (Jennings) and Willie (Nelson). I even grew up listening to Willie 102.1 in Western Kentucky (WLLE-FM out of Mayfield), our classic country station. Those sounds definitely interested me, those soulful sounds. I’m also a bluegrass fan. That whole region has influenced my music greatly.”
Country and bluegrass might have taken hold of Waldon during her teen years, but a fascination with music — specifically, for making it — began much earlier. It helped having a family that also favored sounds outside the Nashville norm.
“I really took to music at a super young age. I was probably around 5 when I started showing interest. My family was like, ‘OK, this is really special.’ I started playing guitar when I was 12 or 13. I had a couple of older friends that were into the jam scene and the bluegrass scene. I learned so much from them.
As far as Bill (Monroe) goes, that’s like rock ’n’ roll music to me. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin, so I definitely wanted to do something in my own way for Bill on this record in that vein.
“There have been so many artists I’ve listened to through transitions in my life. I had an older friend that gave me copies of ‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles and ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.’ At the time, I had never heard anything like that in my life. At 13 years old, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ That kind of opened up a lot of doors for me. In high school, I was really into Neil Young. That was when I also delved into Emmylou Harris’ music. There were a lot of things I was listening to that were more under the surface. All of that was kind of a gateway drug for me of sorts.”
Some of those initial influences pop up on “I’ve Got a Way.” Along with nine Waldon originals, the album sports covers of Vern and Rex Gosdin’s “There Must Be a Someone” and Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” Both are delivered with such natural country solemnity that they are nearly indistinguishable from Waldon’s self-penned material.
“I love the Gosdin brothers. As far as Bill goes, that’s like rock ’n’ roll music to me. He’s like the Jimi Hendrix of the mandolin, so I definitely wanted to do something in my own way for Bill on this record in that vein.”
Still, “I’ve Got a Way” remains an indie project. She has “a whole team that I’m very proud of” to help promote the recording, but there is no major label budget to push it.
Ultimately, it will be up to Waldon to get the word out through roadwork.
“I could act too cool and say that kind of pressure doesn’t bother me. We don’t have a million dollars behind us or anything like that. But I’ve got a good team with some good hearts, so I think the best thing we can do is just watch this grow and try to enjoy the process. I’ve already come so far. It’s a beautiful thing, really.”
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com