There’s more than enough discourse over what constitutes country music, and there are probably as many opinions as there are listeners. But Kelsey Waldon is what your mind hears when you think country. The timeless twang in her voice, the tales of hardscrabble life in her native Kentucky…hell, she grew up in a small town named (for real) Monkey’s Eyebrow. No two ways about it – she’s country. But that doesn’t mean it came easy. Waldon has worked on her songwriting, and that same dedication to craft that led John Prine to sign her to his Oh Boy Records in 2019 informs her latest album, No Regular Dog. Hard work, grief and even love populate the songs of a young woman whose skill and resolve make her an indispensable force in Americana.
The title No Regular Dog springs from Waldon’s (yes) dogged determination to make music her life, damning all barriers in her path. The title track, which leads off the album, makes that clear from its first line – “I ain’t no regular dog, more like a wolf on the kill.” But the song, paced by Aubrey Richmond’s fiddle and Brett Resnick’s pedal steel, bears Waldon’s road wounds, too – “Let it go to your head and you’re a goddamn fool.” “Tall and Mighty” finds Waldon wavering a bit in her determination – “Wondering if three chords and the truth/Still mean the same to me.” During the ups and downs, though, she sticks to her path, at least in part because the alternative is even murkier – “Now everything’s not as bad as it seems/Most of my friends are on amphetamines.”
Waldon’s references to the downtrodden in her world aren’t cheap – she’s spent years documenting the problems back home (and continues to do so, asking for donations for victims of the recent Kentucky floods – see link below). This album’s “Sweet Little Girl” chugs along as it tells the story of a young woman trying to cope with the decay that surrounds her – “I’m gonna drink myself drunk, I’m gonna get myself high/Anything just to make the time pass by.” And “History Itself,” with Adam Duran’s foreboding guitar riff, tells of two brothers, one of which has gone wrong from the beginning – “Couldn’t tell us apart to save yourself/Except the devil in my eyes and who I came to be.”
I said there was love, right? In fact, No Regular Dog features what Waldon calls her first song about love “in its purest form.” “Simple As Love” does, indeed, slow it on down for a spell but still flexes Waldon’s Kentucky wit – “Like a junkie’s got its itch/It leaves you wantin’ more, wantin’ all of it.” And the sorrow of losing a loved one shows up in “Season’s Ending,” an acoustic-led tune that centers on the loss of John Prine, but extends to all we might have lost over the couple of years – “But spring can’t last all year and the flowers will soon be fading.” Waldon’s strong ties to her mentor are deeply felt in the Prine-esque line “We come in this world cryin’ and we leave it all the same.” Influences and all, though, Kelsey Waldon is in full possession of her own talents. Returning to the title track, she calls herself “A survivor of my dreams.” Turns out, she’s thriving.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Backwater Blues” – producer Shooter Jennings emphasized Waldon’s love of a wide range of country musicality, best exemplified on this tune, which features fiddle, Dobro, mandolin, banjo and pedal steel and seems to be reaching your ears from some long-abandoned AM radio station.
No Regular Dog was produced by Shooter Jennings, mixed by Trina Shoemaker, recorded and engineered by David Spreng and mastered by Pete Lyman. All songs were written by Kelsey Waldon. Additional musicians on the album include Jennings (piano, organ, synths, Wurlitzer, Rhodes), Aubrey Richmond (violin/fiddle, strings), Brett Resnick (pedal steel), Adam Duran (electric guitar), Alec Newnam (electric bass), Nate Felty (drums, percussion), Rob McNelly (sitar), Doug Pettibone (Nashville acoustic guitar, Dobro, mandolin), Herb Pederson (banjo), Kristen Rogers (background vocals), Kyshona Armstrong (background vocals), Maureen Murphy (background vocals) and Nickie Conley (background vocals).
Go here to order No Regular Dog (out August 12): https://ohboy.com/collections/kelsey-waldon
Check out tour dates here: https://www.kelseywaldon.com/#tour
To make a donation toward Kentucky flood relief efforts: https://appalachianky.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create/fund?funit_id=1170