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Kelsey Waldon
Kelsey Waldon Dates
Fri 16 Aug 2024 - 20:30 CDT
Palace Theatre, St. Paul, MN

Kelsey Waldon Biography

“I’ve always been attracted to singular voices.”

More than a decade and a half into her career, Kelsey Waldon is herself one of those singular voices. Across four acclaimed full-length albums full of both “heavy twang and spitfire pedal steel” and “coffeehouse confessionals” (Rolling Stone), she’s brought listeners into her world and shared her own experiences and perspectives. Her new project, There’s Always a Song, however, is about the singular voices that shaped her into the artist she is today.

“It’s like, I kind of was able to find my voice through these voices, you know?” Waldon says. “A part of me doing this album is expressing so much gratitude for the music that I love, for music that has meant a lot to me and helped me.”

These eight songs, from the earliest pages of the country and bluegrass music songbooks, helped the singer-songwriter from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Ky., find her place in the world before she became an artist whose own work generates buzz, lands on year-end best-of lists, and, in 2019, led Waldon to become the first artist in 15 years to sign a deal with John Prine’s Oh Boy Records. These days, they remind Waldon of why wanted to make music in the first place.

“There’s a lot of bullshit out there, and sometimes our goals and dreams get clouded by competition or become jaded. [These songs are] like something tapping into me and being like, ‘That’s why you love this.’ It feels like home to me; it feels like the truth,” Waldon shares. “It just brought me so much joy to work with my peers, my friends, people I really admire.”

There’s Always a Song might not even exist, in fact, if not for S.G. Goodman, who in addition to also being a fellow western Kentuckian has been one of Waldon’s good friends since before they were making headlines with their music. During one of their frequent catch-up phone calls, Waldon told Goodman she would love to find a reason to collaborate and asked Goodman if she’d be up for recording a song together. Goodman suggested “Hello Stranger,” specifically citing the 1973 version by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard.

“Everybody in the world has done ‘Hello Stranger,’ so it was really important to me to make that fresh,” says Waldon. “It was so fun [being in the studio together to record it].”

Waldon didn’t stop with Goodman, though. Fellow John Prine devotee and “kindred spirit” Amanda Shires joins Waldon on fiddle for the Bill Monroe classic “Uncle Pen” — arranged in half time like Goose Creek Symphony’s version from 1971 — while Isaac Gibson, lead singer of 49 Winchester, helps Waldon honor his fellow Virginian, Ralph Stanley, on the devastating “I Only Exist.” Margo Price, one of Waldon’s first friends in Nashville, rounds out the list of guests, singing with Waldon on “Traveling the Highway Home,” which Waldon selected from fellow Kentuckian Molly O’Day’s catalog.

“These collaborators are people I really admire, and I think they all have their own special thing going on. They’re carrying their own rightful torch,” Waldon muses. “We’re all just branches off one big ol’ wise tree, you know? In our own unique ways, I feel like each person is bringing their own flavor to country music as we know it today.”

Waldon’s band, meanwhile, was a key inspiration for There’s Always a Song. The songs on this album are among those they frequently listen to in the van while on tour; Waldon and fiddler Libby Weitnauer, in particular, have bonded over their love of old-time and Appalachian music. They’d been out on the road for much of the year before they entered Nashville’s Creative Workshop studio (prominently featured in Heartworn Highways and a longtime Nashville staple) to make this record, which Waldon co-produced with GRAMMY Award-winning Engineer/Mixer/Producer Justin Francis.

“[The tour] felt … electric, and the band just had so much great chemistry onstage — and that really inspired me, too,” says Waldon. “I just kind of wanted to see what that would mean in the studio.”

Waldon opted to tackle two songs alone: Jean Ritchie’s witchy and powerful “Keep Your Garden Clean” opens There’s Always a Song, while the haunting and beautiful “Pretty Bird,” another song by Hazel Dickens, marks the project’s halfway point. A cappella performances “are just such a big part of mountain music,” Waldon says, so she wanted to make sure the album also captured that tradition.

“It’s very vulnerable, but to me it’s like, pure as the morning snow, and soulful in its own way, because it’s just people singing from literally the depths of their soul.”

That kind of soul music resonates now just as it did when these songs originated. Its relevancy lies not in a particular decade, but in the songs’ ability to capture and convey timeless emotions and experiences.

“These songs are deep. They were here long before me, and they will be here long after I’m gone, after any of us are here. They will survive the test of time,” Waldon says. “It’s like they live in some kind of universe that just survives forever. These songs know the secrets to life.”

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