There’s more than a little swagger in the opening bars that precede the first few verses Dale Ann Bradley will sing in her new album Kentucky for Me; her confidence bleeds into the harmonies of “The Sun is Going to Shine” as though she had written the song for the very sake of showing off her personality. Much like the classically-themed “Kentucky Gold” and “Dogwood Winter,” Bradley is sounding very sure of herself with the material she’s selected to record in this latest trip to the recording studio, and although Kentucky for Me contains only one track that feels like an intentionally complicated affair (the title cut), it doesn’t have the look or feel of a traditionally simple bluegrass album. This record is like a journey across the countryside of Kentucky, inviting us towards rural melodies that undoubtedly stand the test of time.
“Appalachian Blue” is the first of two tone-focused works in the tracklist here, featuring more of a conceptual approach in this introspective song. The string contribution is beautiful, but beside some of the implied swing in “One By One,” the former track feels a little less fluid. “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal” definitely sways the hardest emotionally of the midsection songs in Kentucky for Me, and along with “God Already Has,” brings another layer of familiar country faceting into the melting pot of melodies this LP has to offer. There’s no shortage of diversity, and even if you’re not a hardcore fan of bluegrass, folk, country, or Americana music in general, you don’t need to be to find something sweet to cling to in this content.
“Love Train” continues the poetic juxtaposition started early on in Kentucky for Me before turning us on to an even deeper layer of emotional depth in the record, featuring a collective performance that undeniably makes me want to hear Bradley play with other artists as creative as she is more in the future. She can do amazing work on her own, and when she’s with someone who can match her skillset in more ways than one, we might get to hear an especially vulnerable side of her singing profile that debatably sounds even more seductive than some of the bigger chart-toppers out of Nashville have in 2023.
Dale Ann Bradley gives us a shot of emotional adrenaline in “Poor Man’s Pride” only to cut her most moving track so far in the album-closing Tom Petty piece “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which could be one of the best covers you’re going to hear all year long. Kentucky for Me comes to a conclusion sounding like a full-scale theatre piece designed in tribute to an Americana some have said doesn’t exist anymore, but when all is said and done, I have to say its tracklist makes me believe in the ongoing longevity of the aesthetic as it stands present day. I’m just now getting to know Bradley through her music, but this player is an artist I’ll be keeping on my radar for the foreseeable future without a doubt.