Kelsey Waldon’s distinctive voice commands your attention, as though she’s looking you straight in the eye through the speakers. Choosing producer Shooter Jennings for this new record was a wise move considering his stellar work with Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker and the underrated Jaime Wyatt. No Regular Dog has a classic Americana sound, brimming with personality and a little extra bite.
Kelsey’s last release was a powerful collection of cover songs which conveyed a clear political message about where she comes from in rural Kentucky, the injustices she sees, using classic country music imagery to honour the people of her community.
This new album begins with the guitars sounding like an alarm before she snarls ‘I aint no regular dog/ more like a wolf on the kill’ – a statement of artistic intent. She spends the rest of the song assessing her own ‘mental state’ and how there’s a darker side to everything good in life, especially a music career. Being different, standing out, hunting free of the pack is necessary for success.
On ‘Sweet Little Girl’ she begins by singing in third person, telling us about a young woman leaving her backward town, before switching to first person in the chorus. Stories of the pain of others bleed into her own life.
Tall and Mighty takes us on a personal odyssey through her career, with a rueful, realistic sense of humour. She compares herself to the more unfortunate, thinking about those who’ve stumbled on the way.
Classic country waltzes like You Can’t Ever Tell sound different and reassuringly authentic when Kelsey sings them. Her band are brilliant throughout of course, but it is the voice that sets her apart.
The majority of this record remains resolutely personal, exploring her identity and life lived. When side two begins with History Repeats Itself you feel a more heightened sense of tension. Here we have an overtly political song about politicians, the poor and pills. This is exactly the kind of atmospheric, angry song which has really been missing in Americana. If anyone can shake the idealised version of the South that Americana music trades on then maybe Kelsey is the one to do it.
Despite the title Backwater Blues is actually upbeat in tone, very John Prine in musical style. Simple as Love uses some sweet similes to explore her feelings of ‘love, love, love,’ which is a nice shift in tone.
Peace Alone (Reap What You Sow) is another country barnstormer which feels like it really needs to be heard live to get the full effect of just how great all these tones work together. The lyrics are a nice reminder that ‘if you chase the almightly dollar/ sorrow’s always bound to follow.‘
She finishes with Progress Again, a sorrowful lament to the time lost, the fading of a dream into reality of dark clouds and storms. Staying true to yourself is difficult work, but on this evidence she is ready to pay the price.
As the outro fades to black you just immediately want to spin the songs again. The album is dedicated to John Prine, who signed her to his Oh Boy Records label. She’s keeping his fire burning and you can’t help but think of how proud he would be to hear these songs. No Regular Dog is the sound of an artist stepping into herself with increasing and admirable confidence.