Some might say a debut album is most important; it’s the introduction. Some might say the sophomore album is most crucial; it’s where you prove you survived the “slump”. But perhaps an artists’ third album is the most prominent. It’s where an artist really comes into themselves and their sound. Kelsea Ballerini’s new album, kelsea, proves to be just that: self-aware.
“I had to get to know myself at 26 and realize that I’m not the same person who wrote the first or second albums,” Ballerini told The Washington Post. “I still have bits of that confidence and that swagger in this album. But it’s definitely paired with a lot more truth-telling.”
The opener is “overshare”, where Ballerini sings, “Momma says, that I never met a stranger/Strange thing is everybody’s strangers”. All about sharing a little too much, it takes on a similar approach to Thomas Rhett’s “Life Changes”. She paints the picture with humorous anecdotes and is sure not to take herself too seriously. Ballerini wrote the track with Jesse Frasure (a writer on “Life Changes”), Josh Osborne and Tayla Parx. As she explains all of this, she continues to overshare, even if it’s “TMI”.
Insecurity and reflection anchor both sides of the record. On songs like “needy” and “love me like a girl”, she dives into the feeling of being secure enough as an individual to need her significant other. “You’ve never needed anybody, but now you need me/I was the same/But things have changed/I’m needy.” She has established boundaries, and she knows when she wants to change them. The previously released “homecoming queen” served as the lead single and is a refreshing and beautifully simple take on self-worth.
A standout on the record is the heart-wrenching ballad “love and hate”. Penned by Ballerini, Ross Copperman, and Ed Sheeran, the track is about how humans walk the line between love and hate. Her vocals are stunning, and the harmonic strings soar throughout, making for a pixelating experience.
Ballerini has two collaborations on kelsea, one with indie-popstar Halsey and the other with legendary country superstar Kenny Chesney. “the other girl” is a glitzy and ominous story about two girls figuring out which one is the “other girl” in their shared partner’s mind. “I bet you’re bold/I bet that’s why/You seem to occupy his mind/I bet you’re smart/But do you know about me?” Ballerini sings on the first verse. What’s special about it is that neither girl blames the other, and neither is bitter – it’s simply introspective. Ballerini and Halsey’s voices blend well together, creating a sound that is equal parts curious and hurt.
“half of my hometown” is the moment on kelsea. It’s an ode to Ballerini’s hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee, and and pays homage to those who are as lost as they are found about where they stand as they grow up. In both “la” and “half of my hometown”, Ballerini seems to be pulled in two different directions. It was written in Florida with the incredible Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally, Ross Copperman and Jimmy Robbins (the fivesome now calls their writing group The Wet Dandelions, according to Ballerini’s live stream). Chesney, a Knoxville-native as well, appeared on Ballerini’s live stream March 19th to discuss his connection to the song. “It spoke to me in a lot of ways… [reminded me] of how I grew up, the streets I drove down, because, when I listened to that song and it just reminded me so much of my own family, the struggles I experienced when I first left,” Chesney explained. This reflects perfectly in the slow, nostalgic guitar-driven tune. “The other half of my hometown/They all got out/Some went north/Some went south/Still lookin’ for a feelin’ half of us ain’t found/So stay or leave/Part of me will always be/Half of my hometown”. Regardless if this becomes a single, this will always be a pivotal part of Ballerini’s catalog in years to come.
“la” wraps the album up, which is a deeply personal poem-set-to-music that Ballerini wrote herself. What’s special about Ballerini as a songwriter is that everyone can find their story within hers. It extends beyond universality – she is just like the rest of us. In a song like “la”, you can hear her struggle, and it’s so easy to empathize with.
Ballerini notes several times throughout the album that she always has something to say. Sometimes it’s to the wrong people at the right time. But often, it’s coming straight from her heart and it needs to be said. She’s as glittery and envelope-pushing as she is transparent and sincere creating the perfect balance. She’s found her way, and now she wants to re-introduce herself to you. On that note, it’s nice to meet you again, Kelsea.
kelsea by Kelsea Ballerini Tracklist:
the other girl (with Halsey)
love me like a girl
love and hate
hole in the bottle
half of my hometown (feat. Kenny Chesney)
the way I used to
a country song
NYCS Staff Picks:
love and hate
half of my hometown
the way i used to
kelsea is now available everywhere you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released music here on our ‘New Country Music’ playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.
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