With White Noise, White Lines, Kelsey Waldon captures the rugged country sound of her touring band without sacrificing the intimacy of her songwriting.
Because of that approach, White Noise, White Lines feels immediate, 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 Nashville-based songwriter 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’m at.”
The song “White Noise, White Lines” is inspired by a pivotal weekend in August 2017. While driving to see her family in her hometown of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, Waldon had an epiphany that everything was going to turn out all right. She’d just turned 30 and had fallen in love again. A stunning solar eclipse that occurred directly over Nashville left her in awe. Meanwhile, during her visit home, she befriended a few members of the Chickasaw Tribe who were staying at her father’s hunting lodge. Each of those experiences ended up in the song, including some tribal chants she recorded on her phone, added later with the tribe’s blessing.
Sonic snapshots of Waldon’s life are nestled into the album, without ever taking a listener out of the experience. For example, she dropped in a voicemail from her father, who’d called to say he just heard her on the radio. Then she condenses her life story into four minutes with “Kentucky 1988,” sharing some rough parts of her childhood but acknowledging that she wouldn’t have it any other way. She draws on a historical battle in the Bluegrass State on “Black Patch,” which is followed by a snippet of her friends playing and singing the bluegrass tune, “Run Rabbit Run.”
“It was on my birthday and we were having a picking party,” she recalls. “I wanted the record to feel personal and untainted. I also wanted to show that bluegrass is a huge part of everything about me.”
Growing up in Kentucky, Waldon took piano lessons but shifted to guitar when she was 12. Her mom bought her a 10-track recorder so she could start recording the songs she was writing. She nurtured her singing talent at county fairs and in church, then decided to move to Nashville at the age of 19 to pursue a music career. Overworked and broke, she moved back home after a year and enrolled in community college. After being accepted by Belmont University, she zeroed in on songwriting courses and became the first person in her family to earn a diploma.
To make ends meet, she spent three years working as a bartender at the Nashville Palace, but when a booking agency started getting her on the road regularly, she bought a van and hired a band – and she’s been touring almost constantly since then. In 2016, she made her long-awaited debut on the Grand Ole Opry.
Thus, it’s no surprise to hear Waldon singing “Run Away,” a traditional country weeper about falling for someone whose life is a wreck – even though a simmering arrangement on the following track, “Sunday’s Children,” gives that song an aura of empowerment. Waldon wrote “Very Old Barton” about binge drinking alone, with the hopeful message of getting through the highs and lows of life.
A bold centerpiece of the album, 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 sense of the world around me. We’re all here for such a short time and it seems so silly that we get angry about things that I think are very fleeting. It’s a message of hope for all injustice to end and for our wounds to be healed. Overall, it’s a message of unity for all people.”
That surging emotion is evident in the way Waldon plays acoustic guitar on the track – as she does throughout the album. She notes, “I’m as influenced by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan as anybody else, and all kinds of folk singers.”
That affinity for all genres is especially clear when she lists her influences, from The Band and The Meters, to Hazel Dickens and Ralph Stanley, to Ann Peebles and Bill Withers, and all the country legends you can name. She’s also been invited to open shows for one of her biggest songwriting heroes, John Prine, and to sing “Paradise” with him during his set.
Thus it made sense for White Noise, White Lines to close with a song by someone she admires. Her stirring rendition of Ola Belle Reed’s “My Epitaph” underscores the young songwriter’s musical desire to speak up and speak now.
“Everything that I’m influenced by is all across the board. Most of my closest friends know that about me, but I don’t know if my other records portrayed that,” Waldon says. “This whole album is my story, it’s everything that I would ever want to say.”