First Impressions: No Regular Dog by Kelsey Waldon

Flashback to October 2019: I’m driving Diane and a friend from Greensboro back to the Triangle. Diane’s being polite, allowing said friend to listen to her beloved boy band, BTS. Ten minutes in and I can’t take anymore—to my ears, they’re indistinguishable from BTK. “Hey Siri,” I say, “play the new Kelsey Waldon album.” White Noise/White Lines is its title, says the LCD screen, not the White Light/White Heat I reflexively think of—and speak—whenever referencing said album. (Old habits die hard.) I’d discovered it a few days prior, reviewed it within these pages and already bought tickets to see her the following month at a dump of a club, but Diane had to yet to hear the album.

She apologizes to her friend, who claims a dislike of country music, for my rudeness. But she listens to the album. And likes it. A lot. (Like I knew she would.)

Yesterday afternoon, we’re out and about looking at houses. The market’s tight, homes are overpriced, but all will—hopefully—turn out okay. It also means more time in the car and listening together, as I almost always have my headphones strapped on at home. I click play on No Regular Dog, which I listened to twice—or was it three times?—on Friday. Shooter Jennings produced it, but in and of itself that doesn’t mean much to me. What matters are the songs, and whether Kelsey’s version of “three chords and the truth” hits home.

Spoiler alert: It does.

On Twitter, Kelsey wrote that No Regular Dog “touches on determination, guilt, grief, self-love, self-hatred, the road, addiction, devotion, love, the randomness of life and overall understanding your inherent worth and what truly validates us as humans.” It sums up Kelsey’s life and experiences to date, in other words, but it also works as a prism in which we see our lives and journeys. Who hasn’t been a little too rough, rowdy and selfish at times? Who hasn’t needed a friend?

In the title track, she shares her realization that she “ain’t no regular dog” and “a prisoner of my mental cages/my own worst enemy.” “But nothin’ worth doing don’t come without a price,” she  observes, before asserting: “Better saddle up, better hold on tight/It’s going to be a long ride.” Not only that, but she admits that, down deep, she likes—nay, loves—her work. 

Daddy loved his work, I guess I do too
Same old show, a different place, another person
Just grinnin’ in your face
Look what got me here, look at what I’ve become
Another highway, another song, but don’t it all sound sweet
When we all sing along? 

“Sweet Little Girl” reveals the demons that sometimes hitch a ride when one’s on the road, while “Tall and Mighty” opens with her “wonderin’ if three chords and the truth/still mean the same to me.” “You Can’t Ever Tell” delves into the universality of certain behaviors and how the future has yet to be written. The heartfelt “Season’s Ending,” her song for John Prine, resonates deeply for me due to my own loss earlier this year. (“Only time will heal the pain,” indeed.)

“History Repeats Itself” unreels a swampy short story about the mistreatment (and neglect) of large swaths of the populace by those in power. “Backwater Blues,” a timely track due to the recent flood catastrophe in Eastern Kentucky, continues in the same vein (“I didn’t choose this life but it chose me”). The gentle “Simple as Love” offers a respite of a sort through the one thing that matters most in this world. “Peace Alone (Reap What You Sow)” features cool country accents via Aubrey Richmond’s violin and Herb Pedersen’s banjo while relating that not only won’t money buy you love, but it won’t fix what’s ailing you, either. “Progress Again” is another tune that tackles and shares hard-won lessons: “There is hope in persistence/Just like a hymn you hear in the distance.” “The Dog,” a short and smoky instrumental, ends the 35-minute album in fine fashion.

Waldon’s songs routinely meet at the crossroads of country and R&B, though her Kentucky twang tips the scales toward the former. That said, if not for the back cover listing the recording locale as North Hollywood, one would be forgiven for thinking the set was recorded either in Muscle Shoals, Ala., or at American Sound Studios in Memphis (though, of course, that latter closed up shop long ago). Her music is earthy, real and soulful.

Oh, and Diane’s take? “It’s my album of the year,” she exclaimed yesterday. It’s a little too soon for me to say the same, mind you, but it does make me wish that December, when we have tickets to see Waldon at the Cat’s Cradle, was already here. By that point in her tour, it’ll likely be the same-old show for her, but for us? We’ll be grinning in her face. It’s going to be a smokin’ night.


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