Kelsey Waldon: I’ve Got A Way

unnamed

Kelsey Waldon
I’ve Got A Way
(Monkey’s Eyebrow Recordings)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” is the clichéd complaint often lodged by classic country lovers about contemporary music so overproduced or cookie-cutter commercial that to label it C&W is a stretch. But with some judicious searching, it’s not hard to find young artists who stay true to the archetypes of Hank Sr., George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris and others while updating the sound just enough to not appear slavish imitators. On her sophomore release, it’s clear that Kelsey Waldon is firmly in that camp.

Waldon doesn’t stray from the template of stripped-down ballads, waltz-time weepers and high-lonesome heartbreakers chronicled on her terrific 2014 debut. Waldon’s honeyed voice, sweet-tart lyrics and gently rolling melodies shape songs whose choruses are so memorable, you’ll think you heard originals such as the defiant “All By Myself” before. The opening fast shuffle of “Dirty Old Town” with its squiggly, snakelike pedal steel seems plucked from the Flying Burrito Brothers and the bluesy lope of “Don’t Hurt The Ones (Who’ve Loved You The Most)” takes a page out of the Dwight Yoakam sing-‘em-and-weep songbook.

The production keeps the instrumentation basic with few obvious overdubs and a focus on Waldon’s voice, lyrics and tunes. Like Harris and Lee Ann Womack, Waldon never oversells these performances, which makes them feel even more personal, touching and occasionally bitter as in the rebellious kiss-off “You Can Have It.” She even rocks out on the snappy lyrics of “False King” (“You can’t place a crown on the head of a clown/ And hope he turns out to be a king”).

But it’s the ballads that dominate and where Waldon shines brightest. She spins stories with the heart and soul found in the most classic of country music, proving that they do indeed still make ‘em like they used to.