MUSIC REVIEW: ‘The Gold Mine’ establishes Waldon as a new leading voice in country music

Singer/songwriter Kelsey Waldon, a Barlow, Ky. native, released her debut full-length record The Gold Mine June 24.

Sam Osborne

Kelsey Waldon’s searing debut full-length record, “The Gold Mine,” begins with an arrangement of steel guitar that transports listeners back to the 1960s. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter conjures a golden era of country, back when Tammy Wynette’s ballads and Loretta Lynn’s blue-collar revelations ruled the airwaves.

Waldon, a Barlow native who resides in East Nashville, released “The Gold Mine” on June 24. Her sound is rooted in old country, and throughout the 32-minute record, Waldon dispenses ugly truths and morning-after wisdom. “The Gold Mine” plays like a collection of anthems for 20-something barflies who haven’t got it figured out just yet. 

The characters Waldon introduces us to throughout the 11 tracks range from drinkers with a penchant for taking pills, to dreamers, cheaters and church-going folk.

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One feisty standout track is “High in Heels,” the kind of song you wish you heard on country radio. Waldon deflects questions from all too familiar faces, while articulating the toils of one-horse towns. 

“Daddy’s gone, mama tried/Everybody’s got their own kind of suicide.”

Waldon’s gritty and revealing portraits of small-town life put her in a class of Kentucky songwriters largely unmatched in country music’s current landscape. 

Whether lamenting the drudgeries of a miner digging for Harlan coal on Quicksand, or documenting the ups and downs of quarreling lovers on the pedal-steel-drenched “One Time Again,” Waldon uses an often-forgotten rural demographic and makes their experiences relatable. She does this with a driving wit and the heavy heart of a blue Kentucky girl. 

While Waldon draws comparisons to an array of women from country’s golden days, the Kentuckian’s unfeigned southern drawl is uniquely her own.

On moving to Nashville and being a part of a community of talented musicians: 

“Everyday you are inspired to be creative. It’s this little utopia. We’ve all moved here from small towns. A bunch of country music nerds and bunch of people who are just like me. There are so many good records coming out of here, and I’m not talking about music row.”

On how the experiences of growing up in a small town inspired songs on her record:

“I wanted to bring it back to honesty and telling the stories of people and a demographic people forget about, and also the real stories of life. I wanted everyone to see the beauty that I see in it, but also small town rural life, and I think everyone can relate to it in a way. Feel the honesty in it — if it’s authentic I think they can appreciate it.” 

On finding inspiration from Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette for “The Gold Mine”: 

“I think in the past three years or so, I feel like I can truly call myself a fan. Getting into all the obscure stuff, I got really into a lot of Tammy and Loretta, especially their late ‘60s and ‘70s stuff. I’m talking about the deep cuts. Really realizing how good it really is. Especially sonically, it was really hip for that time.”

On playing her first-ever gig: 

“I played in my first club in Metropolis, Illinois across the river. Played my original songs by myself when I was 18. I can’t even remember the name of the club right now, it’s not there anymore. But I played, but it was kind of the first thing I did with my original tunes. I remember I was so scared and I just made myself. I was like, if you wanna do this, you gotta do it. I’m really glad no one has documentation of that.”