No Regular Dog
4 out of 5 stars
The pride of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky (really) gets back in the post-pandemic musical saddle for more pure, subtle country with elegantly conceived lyrics.
Kelsey Waldon already had two impressive albums and an EP to her name when John Prine signed her to his Oh Boy label in 2018. That yielded the following year’s critically acclaimed and commercially successful White Noise/White Lines, which, between Prine’s blessing and Waldon’s obvious vocal and songwriting talents, put her on the popular radar; a relative newcomer informed by country music’s honky-tonk past but not beholden to it.
Prine’s untimely death from COVID related health issues temporarily threw her into a creative tailspin, but Waldon rebounded through songwriting. She put her thoughts about Prine’s passing into “Season’s Ending” singing Winds are gonna change/ Season’s Ending/Only time will heal the pain creating one of this album’s most emotionally moving tracks.
She decamped to LA, recording outside of Nashville and her home state for the first time, and enlisting Shooter Jennings as producer for album four. As in the past, Waldon uses her road band anchoring these often personal stories. Many describe her rigorous but generally satisfying chosen life as a traveling singer/songwriter. That’s the situation on “Tall & Mighty” with Well I’m feelin’ kind of lucky and also damn strange/Been all around the world for some small piece of change /Singin’ my heart out at some shitty bar.
Waldon looks at life from both sides now, as the song goes, with a world-weary yet mostly positive view. In the title track she shakes off her uncertainties and frustrations with But nothin’ worth doing don’t come without a price /Better saddle up, better hold on tight/It’s gonna be a long ride
Most critically though, her clear, sweet, somewhat melancholy country vocals ride atop rootsy country/folk melodies that never feel like blueprints or repeats of what she has already recorded. Guests such as Doug Pettibone on dobro and mandolin, Herb Pedersen’s banjo, multi-instrumentalist Jennings and some low-key backing vocalists support, yet never overwhelm, these fresh songs, leaving the music breathing room.
There are quirks here too. “History Repeats Itself” tells of a criminal who regrets his life through Waldon’s keening vocals. A noir jazz bassline and Brett Resnick’s distressed yet threatening pedal steel takes us down to the swamp on this captivating moment. The waltz time “You Can’t Ever Tell” feels like something Hank Williams might have penned as Waldon questions her feelings with Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow/Maybe I’ll have no regrets/But… I just don’t know yet
These ten tracks (the closing is a short instrumental) are finished in just over a half hour, but there is enough to philosophically ponder, and relish musically, to tide you over until her next chapter.
The album’s name summarizes Kelsey Waldon’s superb talents and determined approach to her profession. In a music world filled with uncertainties she …ain’t no regular dog/More like a wolf on the kill.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen