TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Kelsey Waldon is a young country singer from the town of Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky. She's just released her second album titled "I've Got A Way." Rock critic Ken Tucker says Waldon's distinctive approach to a classic country sound is exciting.
KELSEY WALDON: (Singing) Dirty, old town, dirty, old town, nowhere's I can go. I've been going too far, and I'm wishing on a star going places where the light can't show. But I keep hanging on. I keep hanging on. Ain't no dirty, old town going to keep me from hanging on.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: When it comes to enunciating a lyric, Kelsey Waldon has that George Jones thing going. She sings as though through gritted teeth as if it takes an effort to overcome self-consciousness to deliver these songs that she's composed. It's a way of singing that's acutely aware of avoiding excessive emotion or embellishment. The musical version of hardboiled prose.
WALDON: Many people want to run and hide. They want to run from what scares them deep inside. You wouldn't look it in the face, ever let it show. I'm about to tell you something that you already know. Then when you wanted to be you, you needed somebody else, but I can be me all by myself. I can be me all by myself.
TUCKER: I can be me all by myself sings Kelsey Waldon on that song, but you can also hear what influences have helped her to be herself. There's the Waylon Jennings rhythm in that song, a loping medium tempo that gives the music propulsion without ever getting in the way of the lyric. Another thing that Waldon's singing style conveys is a kind of stubbornness, a resistance to being manipulated in the making of her music and by extension in how she conducts her life. You can hear this in a tough-minded tune like "You Can Have It."
WALDON: (Singing) There's nothing in this world that'll change the way I feel. From somewhere deep inside, I know what's really real. If you're not willing to go there with me, take what you can, just leave gently. You can have it. I didn't want it anyway. There's folks you will know that'll live to bring you down. The only pride they show is when you are wearing a frown but you don't need anybody to tell you that you can't live the way you want to. And tell them they can have it. You didn't it want it anyway. You know it takes a bigger...
TUCKER: What Waldon is giving away on "You Can Have It" is unwarranted pride, jealousy, envy and regret. She has no use for these sins and emotions preferring instead to be - and, again, this is her term - to be the bigger person, someone who forgives and moves on.
It arrives in a bouncy melody punctured by Brett Resnick pedal steel guitar. That prominent prickly pedal steel is itself a statement of belief and purpose. Unlike so much current country which plays out like hard or soft rock, Waldon is reaching back to the country of earlier eras. Listen to her beautiful cover of a 1960s song first recorded by the Gosdin brothers called "There Must Be A Someone."
WALDON: (Singing) There must be someone I could turn to, someone like me, lonely, too. All my life I've been alone, got no friends, got no home. There must be someone I could turn to. All my so-called friends...
TUCKER: The other non-original on this album, "I've Got A Way," is a spooky cover of "Travelin' Down This Lonesome Road" written by bluegrass guru Bill Monroe. Waldon favors the melancholy and on an amazingly assured original song called "Don't Hurt The Ones Who've Loved You The Most," she sounds as though she's singing from a long lifetime of heartbreak.
WALDON: (Singing) Every now and then a stranger will walk by, and they're always so inviting from time to time. They build you up, make a castle way up high. But they always let you down after the ride.
TUCKER: Kelsey Waldon thinks about her own death on that song with a calm, clear mindedness that's not maudlin or pious. She's one of the rare young singer-songwriters who takes an interest in old things, old ideas, old people, old notions of right and wrong.
There are times when she seems so wrapped up in her thoughts, the melody drops away from her vocal and her voice takes on a flat declarative tone, but none of that is by accident. It's all carefully conceived by an artist who does her best to erase all traces of artistry, lest you think she's putting on airs.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Kelsey Waldon's new album "I've Got A Way." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be roastmaster general Jeff Ross. He's roasted everyone from Rob Lowe to Donald Trump, inmates at a jail and the Boston Police.
JEFF ROSS: What's up BPD? You're under a roast.
ROSS: Next, I want to attempt my most dangerous roast ever, roasting an audience of armed police men.
GROSS: I hope you'll join us.
GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for online media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIRTY OLD TOWN")
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL BY MYSELF")
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN HAVE IT")
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE MUST BE SOMEONE")
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DONT HURT THE ONES WHO'VE LOVED YOU THE MOST")
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.