Last August, just as her album No Regular Dog was about to drop, Kelsey Waldon was preparing to hit the road for the first time since Covid-19 had ground the world to a halt. The acclaimed country singer-songwriter was anxious—and not just because it had been two years since she had last set foot on stage. On top of the new album, she was breaking in a new band.
But from the very first show, Waldon realized she was part of something special. Beneath the rhinestones of her trademark tailored suit, her flesh chilled with goose pimples. “I felt like a whole new life with the music,” she says. “Writing a song by yourself in your bedroom or on your back porch is one thing. But then to share it with an audience in a dark, sweaty club is really special. We were just having a lot of fun and the audience would feel it. I think everybody just wanted to be there.”
The alchemy of their road show generated buzz on social media and in the pages of The Washington Post, which proclaimed No Regular Dog “easily the best [album] released by any country singer” in 2022. And now, it has been captured in live recordings of each track on a special deluxe version of the album, out April 14th on Oh Boy Records. The extended edition, which also includes live recordings of Waldon’s songs “White Noise, White Lines” and “False King,” features an unreleased studio version of John Prine’s classic “Spanish Pipedream.” That single, along with a live medley of “Season’s Ending/Sweet Little Girl,” was released on March 31st.
Onstage, Waldon keeps steady time with her left boot. Her searing voice slices the ears and heart, and is often echoed by a sawing fiddle (courtesy of Libby Weitnauer) or the whine of pedal steel guitar (Muskrat Jones), and the interplay—underpinned by electric and slide guitar (Junior Tutwiler), bass (Erik Mendez) and drums (Zach Martin)—revs up entire rooms. The five of them, Waldon says, know how to “bring the heat up,” which has led to their moniker: Her Hot Band. “Everybody in the band is a heavyweight in their corner. And everybody plays like they got something to prove. I guess I do too.”
That notion—of refusing to be counted out—helped to inspire No Regular Dog, and it is also woven into the deluxe version’s recordings. Waldon approaches “Spanish Pipedream” with a glimmer in her eye, tapping into the song’s whimsy and deeper meaning of “breaking away from social and societal norms to pursue true happiness.” She believe it’s just as relevant today as when it was released in 1971. “I think all humans at the end of the day just want to pursue this type of dream and freedom and also, they deserve to live how they want to and be treated just the same. It makes you think without preaching to you, something John was good at.”
The live medley of “Season’s Ending/Sweet Little Girl” sizzles with electricity, the two songs fused with a fiddle tune Weitnauer traces to the great Kentucky fiddler John Morgan Salyer. As Waldon concludes the last refrain of “Sweet Little Girl,” Weitnauer reprises the tune, fiddling away as the band breaks out into a frenzied jam.
“That part of the song,” Waldon says, “just literally makes my blood boil to listen to it. It makes every goose pimple on my body stand up because it just represents some kind of inherent rage and also pride I’ve had my whole life. We usually end it whenever I feel like it needs to end, and so it can kind of go as long or short as we want it. It’s really special when people feel it too. A band that has that special chemistry can do stuff like that.”
But as much as the live recordings showcase the band’s musical virtuosity and undeniable chemistry, they also emphasize Waldon’s vocals and writing prowess. She sings with a ferocity and a vulnerability that matches her hard-hitting lyrics, which seem to be pulled from the rich river dirt of her native west Kentucky. No Regular Dog is country to the bone, a songwriter’s album in the tradition of Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, and Waldon’s fellow Kentuckians Loretta Lynn and John Prine—writers steeped in place and emotion, whose songs are so well woven, and feel so natural, that the hard work of writing them is camouflaged.
The best songs are always like that. The process of writing them is so personal that listeners rarely get to see them being constructed. But for the deluxe version of No Regular Dog, Waldon insisted on including what she calls “extremely vulnerable demos”—intimate voice notes and work tapes she used when she was writing the album—offering her fans the chance to see, or in this case to hear, the sausage being made. “I think I’m just at a point in my life where I just don’t care,” she smiles. “Perfectionism is sort of for the birds these days.” Allowing people to hear the unvarnished purity of the primitive tracks, she says, is “what makes it fun.”
Waldon says these notes are gifts to her fans, the sort of thing she would want to hear from singer-songwriters she admires. On the voice memo of “Ain’t No Regular Dog,” listeners can sense her feeling her way through the song, which seems to have just taken shape. “History Repeats Itself” emerges slower than the dark groove that is found on the album and the live recording. “Peace Alone,” one of No Regular Dog’s finest songs, sounds like it might have been recorded on Waldon’s back porch. Her vocals and strums on her guitar are punctuated with what might be wind from a coming storm and captures what she describes as the moment “when I first feel the energy, when I first get really excited that I’m like, it’s new, it’s a thing—I got it.”
When Waldon speaks about this moment, her eyes sparkle and shine, and perhaps more than anything, No Regular Dog (Deluxe) captures on record what this expression sounds like—the intimate love Waldon has for her craft, and for her devoted fans. “I know how much music has meant to me—I kind of feel like it saved my life in a way. It’s an honor to communicate those things and just bring joy to people, especially the energy I’m trying to convey in this somewhat dark world we live in. I hope that we can be a bright spot for people who come to our show, where everybody feels accepted, and feels safe and good.” – Jason Howard
Ain’t No Regular Dog (Voice Memo Snippet)
No Regular Dog (Live)
Sweet Little Girl (Voice Memo Snippet)
Season’s Ending/Fiddle Interlude/Sweet Little Girl (Live)
Tall and Mighty (Voice Memo)
Tall and Mighty (Live)
You Can’t Ever Tell (Live)
History Repeats Itself (Voice Memo)
History Repeats Itself (Live)
Backwater Blues (Worktape)
Backwater Blues (Live)
Simple as Love (Live)
Peace Alone (Voice Memo)
Peace Alone (Live)
Progress Again (Voice Memo)
False King (live)
White Noise, White Lines (Live)