In the nine years since she left the canebrakes of Ballard County for Nashville, Tennessee, Kelsey Waldon has found herself.
After playing venues around the country and opening for legends, the Monkey's Eyebrow singer/songwriter released her third album, "White Noise, White Lines" -- a confident and deeply personal set of songs -- on folk legend John Prine's Oh Boy Records label Friday.
"I would definitely says it's my favorite record I've done thus far, but every record is like a document for me of where I was at the time," Waldon told the Sun. "This record feels like growth and progression, but it also feels like 100% me so I'm very proud of what we did in the studio. I feel like I'm finally saying some things that I've always wanted to say."
Co-produced by Waldon and Dan Knobler and tracked back in 2017 with her touring band by her side, there was a time when she wasn't sure how it was going to get out into the world.
"I released my two records before (2014's "The Goldmine" and 2016's "I've Got A Way") independently and I was somewhat prepared to do that again, but I knew we probably needed to take it to the next level," Waldon, 31, said. "I had to learn to be super patient about who was going to put it out and, obviously, I think the patience paid off. I found the perfect home at Oh Boy (which she signed to in May). Sometimes those things take a while."
The influence of Prine can be felt, particularly, on tunes like "Lived and Let Go" and "Black Patch," while "Sunday's Children" is awash in Bobbie Gentry-style funk. "Anyhow," the first single released from the record, is a straight-ahead country rack track. The album walks a tightrope between being modern and timeless, blending classic country, folk and rock with soul and some mild psychedelia.
"I'll never do anything that's not purely country at the core. Country is so deeply embedded in me and I love it with all my heart," Waldon said. "R&B has been hand-in-hand with country for a long time, and I'm just trying to bring soul and beauty to a genre that I love and really respect."
Waldon penned every song on the album except for the closer, a stunning cover of the Ola Belle Reed tearjerker "My Epitaph," conjuring a potent, biographical set of songs.
The title track -- inspired by Waldon's experiences the weekend of the solar eclipse in August 2017 -- sounds like a backwoods vision quest, where the trees on the side of the road are hazily bending in the half-light.
"I think when something like the solar eclipse happens, for me and for a lot of other people, it makes you realize how small you are in the world," she said. "We're just one planet in a really, really huge universe and there's bigger things going on out there."
Unsure about her place in everything and the next steps in her career, Waldon had come home for the weekend to find members of the Chickasaw Nation staying at her father's hunting lodge. Two of them -- Ace Greenwood and Jesse Lindsey -- played a traditional song that Waldon captured and tagged onto the end of "White Noise, White Lines," the first of a series of voice memos that appear on the record.
"I wanted the record to feel like an experience for the listener in that way. Hopefully, I think, front to back, everyone can really hear that. I know we live in a single world where albums tend not to matter anymore but they still matter to me."
Other audio snippets include a bluegrass jam from a party ("Run") and a voicemail from her father, which precedes "Kentucky, 1988" -- which Waldon considers her "Coal Miner's Daughter."
"I never really had an origin song," she said. "Obviously, where I'm from has come out of my music forever, as long as I've been alive really, but I never had one song that traced my story from the beginning. This my attempt to do that."
While Waldon won't be playing western Kentucky in the near future, she is set to play in Nashville, Lexington and Louisville over the next month. For more tour dates, visit www.kelseywaldon.com. "White Noise, White Lines" is available on CD and vinyl, as well as Apple Music and Spotify.
"There's a huge part of me that's always attempting to showcase to the world a culture and a region of the Earth that I think is beautiful," Waldon added. "I was really lucky to grow up in Kentucky, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I hope I make my people proud."