Album Review: Kelsey Waldon, ‘They’ll Never Keep Us Down’

Kelsey Waldon’s timing couldn’t be more perfect. In a time swirling in the eddies of unrest, muddied by the hypocrisy of political leaders, and bloodied by the club-swinging, vicious forces of “law and order,” she delivers bold covers of seven songs that stir the waters of protests for justice, freedom, and inequality.

She opens the album with a haunting version of Kris Kristofferson’s “The Law is for the Protection of the People,” featuring a propulsive snare and snaking pedal steel that captures the spiraling out-of-control forces of law and order that ostensibly act to “protect the people.” Even Jesus is rounded up and killed by the law-and-order crowd who view him and his compassionate ways as a threat to the people. Waldon’s version couldn’t come at a better time when the law-and-order crowd commits heinous acts against innocent individuals in the name of keeping order in society. Aida Victoria and Kyshona Armstrong join their voices with Waldon’s on her version of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn.” Rachel Baiman’s circling clawhammer banjo and melancholy fiddle weave a poignant river of sound over which Waldon’s, Victoria’s, and Armstrong’s defiant blues shouts grieve in anger the lack of progress we’ve made in race relations in our country. Simone’s song expresses her weary anger over the racially motivated murders of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers in Mississippi as well as the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young black girls. Waldon’s heart-rending version stands as an unfortunate reminder that after almost 60 years we’ve progressed very little toward racial justice.

The title track, the great Hazel Dickens’ song, is a sprightly bluegrass rambler that reminds us “There ain’t no way they can ever keep us down/There ain’t no way they can ever keep us down/We won’t be bought, we won’t be sold/To be treated right, well that’s our goal/There ain’t no way they can ever keep us down.” Waldon’s soaring vocals deliver a crisply poignant tribute to John Prine with her version of “Sam Stone,” while she captures the urgency of wanting answers to questions about the senseless killing of protestors in her swirling, airy, mesmerizing take on Neil Young’s “Ohio.”

On They’ll Never Keep Us Down, Waldon embraces her hopes for liberation from the claustrophobic moods of our society motivated too often by fear of the other and just as often then devolve into hatred of others and violence toward them. Her versions of these songs move us to look at ourselves and ask ourselves which side are we on.

They’ll Never Keep Us Down is available now – HERE.

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