For someone just in her early 30s, Kelsey Waldon sure seems to have mortality on her mind. “Only here for a moment, then we’re gone,” she shrugs in “White Noise/White Lines,” a plainspoken proverb of impermanence. Just a few minutes later she offers a song called “My Epitaph,” where she echoes the sentiments of Tanya Tucker, asking for love and recognition now, not just on the other side of the grave. Perhaps it was this hardscrabble songwriting that endeared Waldon to John Prine, who released White Noise/White Lines on his Oh Boy label imprint…the legendary auteur’s first new artist signing in more than a decade. Certainly, the patron meshes perfectly with Waldon’s tough, no-frills style, equally indebted to bluegrass and honky tonk, the mountain soul of Patty Loveless and the singer/songwriter idiosyncrasies of Prine himself, and of Dylan and Townes Van Zandt.
Walden produced the record along with Dan Knobler, and together they’ve forged a sound that speaks knowingly to the singer-songwriter’s roots in rural Kentucky; this is an album that’s assured in its conjuring of high-and-lonesome bluegrass twang, gnarled rock and roll, and austere folk. There’s room for surprises, too: “Sunday’s Children” is insinuating, hard-edged funk, while “Very Old Barton” is an agreeably old-timey romp just saturated in pedal steel. You can hear Waldon’s rural upbringing in her unerring Appalachian twang, and White Noise/White Lines presents a rich depiction of a community too often overlooked; she peppers her material with field recordings from some of the American Indian tribes with whom she shares a geographic point of origin, and in “Kentucky, 1988” she pens a loving but unsentimental tribute to a childhood that wasn’t always smooth sailing (“when things got rough, we did not complain,” she asserts). “No matter how far I get away / There’s just some things that will never change,” Waldon concedes, a concise summary for an album about origins, mortality, and all the things you can’t escape from.
Published as part of Rooted & Restless | December 2019