Album Review: Kelsea Ballerini’s “The First Time”

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While Kelsea Ballerini only has twenty-one years under her belt, her music far exceeds the capabilities of most of the young starlet’s peers. From the release of her debut single, top ten hit “Love Me Like You Mean It,” the Black River Entertainment blossoming singer-songwriter made an impact on the country music industry, widening eyes at the possibility of a new, young female finding a way to break the modern mold.

As anticipated, Kelsea has defied logic, proving that she is ready, willing, and able to step to the head of the class and lead the next generation by example. A dozen ways Kelsea has shown her musical leadership exist on her debut album The First Time, which was officially released today.

From the start of the album, “XO,” to its “Underage” finale, Kelsea had a hand in or was the sole writer on each track, showing the world that she is a lyrical genius beyond compare. Whether she is being exceptionally sassy or uncharacteristically vulnerable, this rising star has a way with words that allows her lyrics to resonate with a myriad of listeners from all walks of life. Perhaps also playing a role in Kelsea’s ability to connect with those of varying genders and ages is the versatility she provides in her music, which ranges from slow tempo to fast tempo and encompasses everything in between; occasionally even emitting the sound of a potential cross-genre hit.

Upbeat songs like the aforementioned kickoff cut “XO,” as well as hit single “Love Me Like You Mean It,” and Sirius XM The Highway top contender “Dibs” straddle the border between country and pop, giving Kelsea the musical freedom to dip her toes in other waters, if she so chooses. With catchy melodies and demonstrations of the album’s constant clever lyrics bursting through, this trinity of fast-paced tracks are toe-tapping tunes that will cause music fans to lower the windows, groove in their drivers’ seats, and sing loudly and unabashedly.

Dialing it down a notch, but maintaining the feel good vibe of the faster tracks on The First Time, “Square Pegs,” “Sirens,” and “Yeah Boy” continue the trend of incomparably thought-provoked and thought-provoking lyricism. With each of these cuts containing its own distinct message of being yourself and trusting yourself, the middle ground songs on the album prove to be quite a special trio of tracks. Spreading a message of self love and embracing your individual qualities, “Square Pegs” encourages listeners to not fit in and simply choose to be themselves. Due to the craftsmanship of its words, “Sirens” stands out on the album as it compares a failing relationship to the aftermath of a storm and the many intricacies of the couple’s time together as storm warnings to which Kelsea should have adhered. “Yeah Boy” further influences young girls to have confidence and believe in themselves and their instincts, finding the courage within their souls to be honest with the objects of their affections.

The ballads on the album, “Peter Pan,” “First Time,” “Looking at Stars,” “Secondhand Smoke,” “Stilettos,” and “Underage” are stunning proof that Kelsea’s talents extend past her songwriting and also include being a brilliant vocalist. Delivering her uniquely spectacular lyrics with the passion that undoubtedly was poured into the crafting of the songs, Kelsea shares her deepest desires, darkest fears, and suppressed pain with those privileged enough to own her musical diary.

Personal highlights of the album come in three tracks; all of which fit squarely into the ballad category, but all of which are unforgettable in their own rights. “Peter Pan,” which Kelsea declared as her favorite track on the album during my recent interview with her, is an anomaly in the sense that it possesses a childlike title and extremely mature lyrics. Mocking the immaturity of a male who refuses to grow up and step over the line from boy to man, Kelsea gently sings to him about how lost he is and that his inability to realize that Neverland is fictitious is something which she can no longer bear. Taking the needed step away from the man she can’t change, Kelsea ultimately explains “you’re a lost boy, and you don’t know what you lost, boy” before she flutters her wings and flies away to find what’s right for her.

“Stilettos” has long been a fan favorite since Kelsea first began performing it live, even debuting it at the Grand Ole Opry in March 2015. A song about holding your head high and never letting anyone see you break, Kelsea softly boasts about wearing her pain like stilettos, masking her hurt and learning how to be strong through the struggles. Metaphorically speaking, and in keeping with the theme of the track, “Stilettos” teaches people to stand tall and outwardly fake their way through hurt until it becomes a distant memory.

The absolute most special moment on the album comes in the form of “Secondhand Smoke,” a track to which only The First Time purchasers are currently privy, considering Kelsea’s adversity to performing the emotionally-driven song live. Opening herself up and sharing one of the most intense portions of her journal with fans, Kelsea sings of her parents’ divorce and the lasting effects it has had on her, even into adulthood. Pleading to herself to make her own mistakes, rather than emulating those of the people who raised her, Kelsea croons about maintaining the mentality of never choking on their proverbial secondhand smoke.

Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time is an album for all genders and ages and will become many young women’s most valuable companion as they deal with life’s every day trials. An honest portrayal of life and love, the album reads like an open book and expresses feelings that everyone can relate to, but few can so eloquently put into words like Kelsea.

Once upon a time a young pre-teen named Kelsea Ballerini looked up to a young artist named Taylor Swift – a lyricist and musician far wiser than her years. Fast forward a few years down the road, and Kelsea Ballerini is poised to follow the same track to unparalleled success as her admired predecessor. The First Time is merely the first time country music fans and critics have had the opportunity to experience Kelsea’s many layers, and if you can only make one good first impression, Kelsea far surpassed that goal.

The release of Kelsea’s album marks just the beginning of her beautiful country music fairytale with “the end” being nowhere near.

Download Kelsea Ballerini’s The First Time

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Thank you to Nashville Gab for the opportunity to share my Kelsea Ballerini The First Time review with your loyal readers.

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