Mar 30, 2020
Oct 18, 2019
By Kevin Broughton
Music, a sense of place, and family have been Kelsey Waldon’s passions as long as she can remember. She took piano lessons as a 10-year-old, then switched to guitar a couple of years later. Her mom soon bought her a 10-track recorder to encourage her creativity, and by 19 she’d moved from her Western Kentucky home to Nashville for the first time. She worked as a bartender while polishing her songwriting chops and taking what gigs she could find. A brief interregnum back home in Ballard County – and community college – followed, then it was back to Music City’s Belmont University for serious study and renewed focus on her craft.
She cultivated a loyal following through frequent touring across the U.S. and two critically acclaimed albums; the most recent of which made it onto NPR’s Fresh Air host Ken Tucker’s “Top10 Favorite Albums of 2016” while the album’s lead single, “All By Myself,” was featured on NPR’s list of “Top 100 Songs of 2016.”
On her new album, White Noise, White Lines, Waldon captures the rugged country sound of her touring band without sacrificing the intimacy of her songwriting. Because of that approach, the record feels immediate and intimate, somewhere between a concert and a conversation. Co-produced by Waldon and Dan Knobler, the collection opens with a confident anthem, “Anyhow,” which finds the artist forging ahead after some frustrating setbacks.
“The past three years since we put a record out, we’ve seen some of the biggest ups and downs, like exciting things happening, and not-so-exciting things happening. We kept going and it’s all about that process,” she says. “And the title alludes to things going on around us, in the world and in our environment. I do think there is a lot of white noise. That title describes where I am.”
The nine songs – and two perfectly placed interludes – on White Noise, White Lines are a distillation of the bluegrass-infused country emblematic of the region John Prine immortalized when he sang of the Green River and Mr. Peabody’s coal train. More on how that legend and Waldon – in Hollywood-script fashion – intersected in a moment.
“Run Away” is a traditional country weeper about falling for someone whose life is a wreck. Waldon wrote “Very Old Barton” about binge drinking alone, with the hopeful message of getting through the highs and lows of life. But the bold centerpiece of the album comes in a pair of songs. Waldon offers an impassioned protest song with “Lived and Let Go.” She explains, “A lot of times, I tend to write because I have to make senseof the world around me.” Its companion cut (mainly because they’re both either fast waltzes or in 6/8 time – the artist and I weren’t quite sure when chatting before the tape rolled on the interview), “Black Patch,” oozes authenticity.
White Noise, White Lines is one of the best country albums of the year, and Miss Waldon should be prepared to hear her name called when Americana award season rolls around.
We chatted briefly about Prine, Muhlenberg County, tobacco wars and seasickness.
You’re the first artist signed to Oh Boy Records in a long time. How is it you came to the attention of John Prine, and how would you describe your personal and artistic relationship?
Yeah, that’s right. I’m the first one signed in almost 15 years, and I think that shows how careful they’ve been; I don’t think they do anything unless they want to. And neither do I. But I actually didn’t meet John until last year. I would see him around town in Nashville a lot; I’d freak out when I’d see him at Melrose Billiards and some other places like Arnold’s Meat and Three.
When my last record came out in 2016, that’s when everybody at Oh Boy apparently took notice of me, and when John and his wife, Fiona, heard my music. Later, I performed at a John Prine Tribute show and met Fiona and she said, “John and I are big fans,” and I was just in disbelief.
Yeah! I was like, First off, you know who I am, and John Prine knows who I am! It was just so cool to meet her there. And she’s become a champion of mine, and a great friend. But 2018 – on the Cayamo Cruise – was the first time I met John, and I got to sing “Paradise” with him. Later in the year, when he and I played some shows together, that was when he was able to hear some of my original music. That was when we were really able to bond, and he started asking about my upcoming album.
I can’t imagine how cool it was to have him call you out on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry and announce you’d signed with the label.
Yeah. It’s funny, but a lot of people think that’s when it happened. They actually think that was the moment he decided! (Laughs)
Like it was a reality show or something.
I know! And I’ll tell you something else, and it’s probably TMI: The first time I sang with him on the cruise, I was so nervous. I had actually been throwing up! I’d gotten seasick and felt awful. And they called me and said, “Miss Waldon, John Prine would like you to sing ‘Paradise’ with him at his three o’clock show [in an hour], can you do that?” And I was so sick, but I said, “You bet I’ll be there!” So I rolled out of the bed and made it work.
You left Kentucky for Nashville at 19, came back home for a while & went to community college, then back to Nashville where you earned a diploma at Belmont University. What did you study?
I actually got a degree in songwriting, as strange as that sounds. I had never really planned on being that girl who applies for scholarships and things like that. It’s a pretty exclusive program. Berkley offers a similar program, and I read that Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch did that one. It’s a lot of music theory classes that you have to take. I took a “History of Country Music” class, which was really cool. But it taught me a lot about discipline; it was really cool, because I’d never had anyone push me out of my comfort zone before. It made me learn that there’s inspiration everywhere. And it was good to learn that at a young age, I guess.
You and Dan Knobler co-produced this album. Had you ever been on the other side of the glass before? What did you learn from the experience?
All the records I’ve done have been my vision, but all of the experiences are a little bit different. This time I used my live touring band. You know, we’d been out on the road touring pretty seriously for about three years before going into the studio. So we had practiced [these songs], and it just seemed completely natural. The thing was my vision, and Dan was the guiding light in helping me navigate through the process. I asked him if he was okay giving me a production credit and he agreed. I’ve always had a strong say in all my records, so it seemed the natural thing to do.
And the band, these are folks you’ve been touring and playing with for a while?
Yes! Brett Resnick, my steel player, he’s played on all three of my records.
Solid player, by the way.
He’s amazing, and one of my first friends when I moved to Nashville. But yeah, these are the guys who’ve been touring with me since 2016. And a couple of them, even a few years before that.
And the recording process: How much of it did y’all do live?
Pretty much all of it. We didn’t use any technology unless we had to. There were a few overdubs as far as layering some of the guitars, but the rhythm section – the “meat and taters” of it – was all done live right there. But if one or two of the vocals live with the band weren’t perfect, they were perfectly imperfect. I just wanted to keep the energy going. I didn’t do anything unless it felt right. None of us did.
I brought in the songs, and some of them we already had together and where we didn’t, we just played until we got there.
You come from a community called Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. Looking at the map, it’s one of those spots in the middle of the country where I bet you could visit four or five other states on half a tank of gas. Would you say there’s a confluence of cultures in your part of the country?
Well, it’s a unique part of Kentucky, for sure. Growing up there in the river bottoms you see lots of different things and people. I had friends in Tennessee, because you’re right there on the state line, and you’re right across the river from Illinois. The Ohio River was in our back yard; I grew up in flood country. Backwater is part of life when you’re at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio.
But yeah, there’s a heavy blues influence, and obviously bluegrass was a big part of my life growing up. They say you’ve got bluegrass coming down the Ohio, and the blues coming up from Memphis and Mississippi. But there’s a feel, you know? There are cypress trees all around…I grew up in the sloughs, the Kentucky swamps. My dad owns a hunting lodge down there, and when he’s not farming the land, he floods it out for waterfowl hunting. I always tell anyone who hasn’t been there how unique and beautiful it is in its own right.
Speaking of your neck of the woods, there was a running, turn-of-the century shooting war over tobacco prices, and the Duke family’s monopoly, for about five years. I didn’t know about it until I heard your song “Black Patch,” so I had to look it up.
Oh, really? That’s great! Pretty crazy imagery, right?
It’s awesome! Did you grow up with stories passed down? The Hatfield/McCoy thing in Eastern Kentucky/ West Virginia gets all the press and romance, but this was some serious stuff.
Yeah, you know I think the region and Kentucky in general has so much history. And growing up, yes, I did hear the stories. My great-grandmother wrote so much stuff down, and kept everything. And my brother-in-law and little sister farm tobacco and dark-fire it. It’s a huge part of fall every year. That’s the tobacco used in snuff. But I actually learned about the Black Patch war from taking a History of Kentucky class in community college, and still have the textbook. But reading about it, I was like, “Holy sh*t!” The imagery was just so romantic, and I thought, “This sounds like a song.” Just the name “Black Patch” is so killer.
It’s also a way, I think, for me to just speak up for local farmers; people getting the thumb of the government pressed down on them. It was a way for me to share their story.
I want to piece together a timeline, because this just seems so – if not perfect – at least poetic. In the spring, Mr. Prine formally announced you were on the Oh Boy label. There’s an aptly-named “Interlude” on the record where you play a voice mail from your Dad where he says, “Hey, Babe. I’m down here in Muhlenberg County, looking for turkeys.” It’s freaking precious. Did you know there was a chance you’d be on John Prine’s label when you played that back for the first time?
No! Not at all!
(Laughs) I do promise! We tracked this record in late 2017; it took a while to get this one out. The whole year of 2018 I was trying to find the right home for it. I didn’t want to independently release something again, and knew it was time to do something else. I wanted to elevate things a little bit. And it’s hard, you know? It’s hard to find people who understand what you do.
That’s kind of going off on a tangent a little bit, but no. I save all my mom’s and dad’s voice mails. I just love them so much. My dad leaves the really colorful ones. And my granny does too. But I’d been wanting to do the “interlude” thing for a long time, and with this particular record I wanted it to feel very human and untainted. I also didn’t want to overdo the interludes, and that one had a perfect sentiment, I think. My dad and I had turkey hunted together in Muhlenberg County, and just had a perfect weekend.
But I swear, I had no idea. It just worked out that way.
Grab White Noise, White Lines (on Oh Boy Records) wherever you get your music. Oh, and she’s touring, too. Go see a show.
Oct 11, 2019
By Travis Erwin
Somebody killed somebody songs. That’s the foundation of Chris Knight’s reputation as a songwriter and we’ve all seen the memes. They are funny and bring a smile, but those of us who call ourselves fans of Knight’s work can appreciate the truth of that reputation, as well our realization he routinely brings so much more than death and despair to his music. Under the layers of grit and Kentucky sweat, there is an authenticity that makes Knight’s words relatable. In that vein, his songs often offer the idea of hope, springing from places of desperation.
That said, Chris truly is “The Dark Knight of Country Music” and no contemporary delivers such heavy brooding emotion with such captivating integrity. His new album, Almost Daylight delivers a whole bunch of what we expect out of Knight, and a few surprises as well.
Vocally there is that signature gruffness that has only grown more pronounced in the seven years since his last release, but given that Knight was never exactly a crooner in the first place, the influences of time upon his voice only intensifies the hardscrabble emotion of his work. Do I think this is his best work? No, for me the album was good, but never quite delivered the emotional hook of Knight’s best works. That is not to say, Almost Daylight is not a quality album, though for me, the songs often fell just short of their potential.
The album opens with “I’m William Callahan” and this is the type of song that Knight has made a career of -- A hard luck character digging for purchase in life. This track does not stray far from that though it does feel a bit more dependent on guitar melodies and arrangement to deliver the mood rather than the emotional imagery Knight has done so well cultivating in the past.
Like weeds sprouting from a windblown crack of earth, “Crooked Mile” is song is about a couple of so-called bad seeds who will grow just fine, if only the world will leave them alone. The imagery is great and the song memorable, though in the end, I found myself wishing for more to their story.
The third track is called “I Won’t Look Back,” and leaving the pain of the past is the theme. Just as the title states, the character plans to leave without looking back. The writing is sharp and feels like vintage Knight, which stands in contrast to the following track. “Go On” is as close to a motivational tale as you’re likely to find from Knight, and though it toes the line the track stays just shy of sappiness in the chorus.
These are indeed divided times we live but even with that fact at hand, the fifth track on the album seemed oddly out of character. Knight has used his talent as a songwriter to often uncover commonalities among us. Dark and light, these collective truths of humanity are delivered from his brand of storytelling as delivered by the downtrodden and fallen. There is no denying the world we live is full of lies these days, and yes, that is the “The Damn Truth,” just as Knight sings. However, it is impossible see truth when viewing the world with only our right, or left eye. This track didn’t offer any real truths, only more divisive political pandering in a society already ripe with too much of that.
The album gets back on track with “Send It On Down” featuring Lee Ann Womack. This is the tale of a man lost in his hometown. A place he doesn’t quite fit in anymore. If in fact, he ever did.
Anyone that has ever had a long hard night of too much thinking and wondering has sought the solace of daybreak, hoping for the sun to chase away the demons of the night. The title track plays with that idea as well as life on the road and the importance of having someone waiting back home. While it did take me a few listens to get the full effect of these lyrics, ”Almost Daylight” is easily the best song among the eleven. Nuanced and complex, this is a set of lyrics that will mean many things to many different people. It is this kind of writing and nod to universal emotion that has made Knight one of the best songwriters going for over two decades.
“Trouble Up Ahead” is classic Chris Knight tale of doom, despair, and desperation. You can feel the Kentucky sweat on the back of your neck, and the grit on your teeth after listening to this track. The harmonica on “Everybody’s Lonely Now” adds to the melody which for Knight is almost upbeat.
Chris Knight is not a man who does many covers, but his take of Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood,” feels fresh and authentic. Knight does a great job of making the track feel as if it is one of his own creations. For me, this is the second best cut on the album.
Closing with another cover, Knight joins yet again with John Prine on a version of the latter’s 1973 classic, “Mexican Home.” Together, Knight and Prine, make the strong imagery come alive as they transport the listener to a different time and place.
My takeaway is this … Almost Daylight is a solid album that will speak to longstanding Chris Knight fans, and deliver what they have come to expect while also presenting a few new variables to his writing. I am not sure the album will do much more than that, as it falls short of the high standards Knight has set in the past. Outside of the title track, I am not sure any of these cuts will be regarded among his best.
Travis Erwin is a fiction writer, lyricist, and music critic. A native Texan, Travis now calls the West Coast home. His fiction can be found anywhere books are sold, and you can reach him on twitter @traviserwin or via comment on this post.
Sep 19, 2019
Cracker From Muskogee
The Tide Pod and the Damage Done
Chick-fil-a Took My Baby Away
(Okay, not a protest song, but it had to be here)
Hurt Me SoulCycle
Evviva Il Papa John’s
Talkin’ Colin Kaepernick Blues
I Was a Teenage Incel
Give Hashtags a Chance
Your Punisher Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven
This Meme is Your Meme
Big Yellow Uber
Doxxing in the Name
Outrage of a Small Circle of Friends
De Keurig Man
Yasss Save the Queen!
White Claws for Peace
Would Jesus Wear a TAG Heuer?
Nike Punks F*** Off
Let’s Retweet the President
Hobby Lobby… the Punishment Due
May 30, 2019
A Name to Noe: Ian Noe’s Debut Album, Between The Country Is More Than Worth Your Time
Review by Travis Erwin
Hailing from Western Kentucky, Ian Noe’s voice sounds strikingly similar to that of John Prine - to the point a casual listener might initially confuse the two. Musically, Noe’s upcoming album, Between The Country utilizes a variety of melodies and sounds, but my prevailing take away is that young Mr. Noe was heavily influenced by The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the lineage of country rock bands that followed.
This fusion of undeniably Kentuckian vocals, and the guitar heavy country rock that sprang from California back in the late 60s, works quite well and it is this combo that does the majority of the lifting. No band capitalized on that sound more than the Eagles, and on more than one track I was left thinking this reminds me of the Eagles, but with a ton more emotion and grit.
The blend of vocals and melody left me wishing Prine and Linda Ronstadt had given the world a love child. Actually, Ian Noe might very well be that love child. Okay, not biologically of course, but certainly by way of his music.
Noe flexes his timeless songwriting craft throughout the album, with a collection of stories about the downtrodden, the desperate, and the degenerate. The characters in his songs feel honest and real, and through them, the listener has little choice but to empathize as we share in their pains, their hopes, and their inevitable falls.
The album opens with the prodigal daughter, “Irene (Ravin’ Bomb),” arriving drunk and on her momma’s front porch. A ballad of addiction, it sets the tone for the rest of the tracks.
“Barbara’s Song” offers a montage of characters headed for their doom aboard a train, bound for nowhere. The calm before the end brings home the unfolding tragedy. I struggled a bit to wrap my head around “Junk Town” a song full of sorrowful harmonies and a rusty metaphor for the coming end that never fully materialized for me, though the pair of songs contrast in that one is a look at sudden death while the second sheds light on the emotion of a long, slow passing.
Love is served up in the next few tracks. “Letter To Madeline” as an outlaw writes to his beloved for what no doubt will be the last time. “Loving You” pulls in elements of the blues and the strong tradition of old, sad country songs to bring out the heartache most of us have been hit with at one time or another.
“That Kind of Life” rides the easy vibes of the dog days of summer to showcase a laidback lifestyle that often goes unappreciated. This smooth song of people living and getting along gives way to the slow roll of dark and murky storytelling in “Dead On The River.”
We’ve all been told of the thin line between love and hate, but the eighth track on Between The Country walk a different line. Proving the gap between hope and despair is indeed narrow, “If Today Doesn’t Do Me In” is perhaps my favorite track among the ten offerings.
The next to last track drags us even deeper into the dark side of society. “Meth Head” is a term bantered about in communities across the country and at this point no further explanation is needed to conjure a mental idea and image but on this track Noe gives us the intimate look at those who have fallen prey to this bathtub and back room concoction.
The namesake single is the final track of Between The Country. Laying out a bleak look at the urban side of Western Kentucky complete with a line to go with the imagery of the cover the songwriting is full of powerful lines that go with what is a powerful and dark debut for Noe. His musical influences merge and blend to give us a talented new voice and writer on the scene.
Overall, the album takes a hard truthful look at a place that has seen plenty of hard difficult times. Sure there are glimpses of hope and happiness, but the album gives us a look at what happened to Western Kentucky after Mr. Peabody hauled paradise away.
Travis Erwin is Texas boy now living the life of a free-spirited writer in sunny Southern California. A long time music blogger and sports writer, Travis is the author of a comedic memoir titled, THE FEEDSTORE CHRONICLES, and a pair of novels, TWISTED ROADS and WAITING ON THE RIVER. His latest release is a joint, short story/EP collective with singer/songwriter Dan Johnson, titled HEMINGWAY.
Between the Country is available tomorrow everywhere.
Apr 26, 2019
Mar 29, 2019
Oct 3, 2018
Usual disclaimers: This is Trailer's top 20. The year-end list will be compiled from all FTM contributors' votes. 3 more months to go - this'll change a lot by December.
1. Dallas Moore - Mr. Honky Tonk
2. Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere
3. Fantastic Negrito - Please Don't Be Dead
4. Ruston Kelly - Dying Star
5. Neko Case - Hell On
6. Blackberry Smoke - Find a Light
7. Caitlyn Smith - Starfire
8. John Prine - Tree of Forgiveness
9. Lucero - Among the Ghosts
10. Brent Cobb - Providence Canyon
11. Joshua Hedley - Mr. Jukebox
12. Rolo Tomassi - Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
13. Lori McKenna - The Tree
14. Cody Jinks - Lifers
15. Glorietta - s/t
16. Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour
17. Ryan Culwell - The Last American
18. Brandi Carlile - By the Way, I Forgive You
19. Buffalo Gospel - At the Last Bell
20. Shooter Jennings - Shooter
Oct 1, 2018
Aug 13, 2018
Aug 10, 2018
Jul 12, 2018
May 31, 2018
Apr 26, 2018
You think Florida-Georgia Line sucks too?!?
Country radio exec:
*sees Paul Thorn in public*
Me: Try not to say something stupid...
Me: I don't like to dance
*Jo-El Sonnier song comes on*
When Jason Aldean puts out a good song with Miranda Lambert
Chris Stapleton had the second most added song at country radio this week!
When the car beside you is playing Kane Brown
The new John Prine album is nice, huh?
When your passenger says they're tired of listening to Merle
Still more country than Sam Hunt