Life frequently resembles more of a slog through the mire than a stroll down a clear path. Even with an endpoint in sight, adults struggle with internal and external roadblocks along their personal journeys. However, character and achievement are built on the shoulders of adversity. Singer-songwriter Kelsey Waldon realizes that perseverance is key to navigating less than hospitable terrain. When she surmises that “[she’s] always arriving, never getting there,” Waldon captures both the angst and optimism present on so much of her debut The Goldmine, an introspective country album full of unvarnished reflections about daily life and larger aspirations.
As an up-and-coming artist, the Kentucky-bred, East Nashville-based Waldon has undoubtedly endured her own share of setbacks. Her understanding of professional, financial, and romantic disappointment bleeds into every facet of her songwriting, from her plainspoken lyrics to the often disadvantaged, but dignified protagonists she portrays. Her knowing drawl, which veers from sympathetic and vulnerable to barbed and defiant, rises invitingly over waves of emotive instrumentation that includes resplendent pedal steel by Brett Resnick and sorrowful fiddle courtesy of 10 String Symphony‘s Christian Sedelmyer. In fact, the entire cast of supporting musicians is top-notch, infusing Waldon’s compositions with a warm, earthy appeal. By exercising restraint with his production and keeping the focus on Waldon’s own commanding voice, Michael Rinne helps create an album that’s pensive, but never dour.
Throughout The Goldmine inner strength is revealed in desperate circumstances. The narrators cope with ostracization (in the form of the churning small town gossip mill and a beau’s infidelity in the album opening “Town Clown”) or lack of self-esteem (“I don’t know who I am/And I can’t say I give a damn” a barroom-hoping loner shrugs in the aptly titled weeper “Pride”), but they continue to soldier through less than ideal situations. In the searing “High In Heels” an impoverished family where “hands are tired/hands are tied” looks to make ends meet by any means necessary. The narrator calls out the hypocrisy of the Evangelists who arrive at her door and are more focused on Scripture than practicing actual compassion: “We might need Jesus/But we also need food,” she notes darkly. Weary, but unbroken by the opinions of others, she warns her detractors “Don’t criticize if you don’t know/And don’t call it hell if you’re too afraid to go.”
The narrator in the rollicking “One Time Again” is similarly unbowed by the judgment of her significant other. Domestic tensions come to a head as she refuses to put up with her love’s alcohol-induced jealousy. “Tonight you’re not my friend/And I don’t think I can forget one time again,” she snarls, effectively standing up for herself and rejecting a meaningless apology.
Best of all may be the bittersweet waltz “Not My First Time,” where the lonesome narrator acknowledges her sexual encounters without shame. “It’s not my first time/But it’s better than last time,” she assures her partner for the night. Her desire to seek comfort, presented in a matter-of-fact manner, is simply regarded as a part of her own experiences and growth instead of viewed as a cause for consternation.
While The Goldmine is rooted in realism, Waldon smartly ensures that it is never devoid of hope. She presents multifaceted portraits of everyday people who may be momentarily hindered, but are ultimately undefeated. The journey to obtain happiness may be long, but the lessons learned along the way are invaluable. Waldon’s honest, empathetic debut serves as an excellent showcase of her rich artistry. She may not have completely reached her preferred destination, but with this kind of talent, she is well on her way.
The “Not My First Time” video was recorded by Cabin Country.