Tammy Wynette had to stand by her man, but Kelsey Waldon “can be me all by myself.” Thursday night at Hill Country Live, “All By Myself” was one of many songs in which the Kentucky-bred singer extolled — or at least accepted — aloneness. This outlook seemed genuine, but it was most persuasive when Waldon wasn’t being crowded by her four-man band.
The balance between upfront and backup is just about right on “I’ve Got a Way,” Waldon’s impressive new album, which was released a few weeks ago. During her 70-minute Hill Country set, however, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter was often overpowered by the other musicians, especially during the livelier tunes. Waldon’s twangy soprano and Brett Resnick’s pedal steel were so close in pitch that they blended into a single wail. The combination was less high and lonesome than muddy and indistinct.
If that meant the quieter songs were the most effective, they probably would have been anyway. Waldon’s style is rooted in the era before country and rock became intimate, when such backwoods troubadours as Hank Williams were forever on the verge of tears. She emphasized her taste for the weepy good old days by performing two covers written well before she was born: Vern and Rex Gosdin’s “There Must Be Someone” and Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” Both are on “I’ve Got A Way,” and are about, of course, being all by oneself.
Waldon’s band seemed to be a few decades ahead of her, notably during a Resnick-written instrumental, “Choctaw Stomp.” It ventured into bluesy Allman Brothers Band territory, although it stopped about 15 minutes short of that group’s best-known jams. The other upbeat material was mostly in honky-tonk mode, while midtempo numbers tended toward country-waltz cadences.
The singer’s character was clearest when the songs were at their mournful slowest. “Don’t Hurt the Ones (Who’ve Loved You the Most)” rued leaving her family behind; “You Can Have It” insisted that she “didn’t want it anyway” and was “better without it”; and “Let’s Pretend” imagined being somewhere else, in a place where “we can only be who we’re meant to be.”
Given all this melancholy, Waldon’s upbeat demeanor might have seemed odd. She sang with a smile and filled time between songs with the usual chatter about long van rides, merchandise for sale and appreciation for the audience. Perhaps the singer’s equanimity can be explained by “The Heartbreak,” which closed her show as it ends her new album. “I just wanted to thank you for the heartbreak,” she sang, “because it brought me to where I am.” The melody was country gospel, but the sentiment was closer to Zen Buddhist.