Album Review – Kelsey Waldon’s “There’s Always a Song”

#510 and #518 (Traditional Country, Old-Time) on the Country DDS.

Taking a quick detour from her towering albums of original songs, the “Pearl of Kentucky Country Music” Kelsey Waldon stops down to leave behind some signature versions of her most favored songs from the vaunted canon of early country music that have heavily influenced her career.

One of the reasons touring musicians also tend to be such astute students of the music is because they spend so much time traveling the highways and byways of America listening to it. Sometimes it’s a special song that gets you through the last leg of a long journey home, or is extra sentimental on a certain stretch of road. Assembling a carefully selected playlist of these cherished tracks results in the album There’s Always a Song.

There are plenty of other versions of Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” or The Carter Family’s “Hello Stranger” out there in the wild. But there weren’t any that featured the unique and alluring vocals of Kelsey Waldon. Beyond being a covers album, There’s Always A Song is a strongly vocal album that explores the contours and wonders of Waldon’s tone.

The album includes two a capella tracks, including opening with Jean Ritche’s old folk song “Keep Your Garden Clean.” This immediately sets Kelsey’s voice as the centerpiece of the work. This vocal-centric emphasis is then underscored by bringing in a host of collaborators, including fellow Kentuckian S.G. Goodman on an excellent version of “Hello Stranger,” and Isaac Gibson of 49 Winchester on “I Only Exist.”


Instrumentation isn’t inconsequential though. Waldon’s right hand woman as of late is fiddle player Libby Weitnauer who has become instrumental to Waldon’s sound and is all over this album. However, it’s the fiddle of Amanda Shires that steps into the spotlight of Kelsey’s version of “Uncle Pen,” which takes on a slowed down and slightly funky bell bottom feel, similar to the treatment Tyler Childers’ Food Stamps give to their cover songs.

Margo Price shows up to sing on what might be the most overall entertaining song of the set, a supped-up version of “Traveling The Highway Home” that reminds you in many respects of Willie Nelson’s family band at the height of their powers in the early ’80s.

Cover albums are often depreciated in an artist’s catalog because they can’t include the level creativity original albums can, at least on the surface. But Kelsey and her collaborators really make the eight songs of There’s Always a Song their own, as cliché as that might sound. She selected songs she could deliver with passion and that accentuate her vocal strengths, and that give a road map back to her most defining influences.

8/10

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