Album cover art for Rolling Up the Welcome Mat by Kelsea Ballerini.

Review: Kelsea Ballerini – Rolling Up the Welcome Mat

National Music Reviews

Kelsea Ballerini
Rolling Up the Welcome Mat    

Black River Entertainment
Street: 02.14
Kelsea Ballerini = Maren Morris x Maddie & Tae

Unless you’re on a specific part of TikTok or into the country-pop music world, the name Kelsea Ballerini might not be immediately familiar. (For all the indie-pop fans, Ballerini has a track with LANY, “i quit drinking.”) In that vein, her surprise drop of the six-track EP Rolling Up the Welcome Mat on Valentine’s Day is fitting—because it’s an unexpected triumph.

The record’s out-of-the-blue announcement parallels its unexpected content. Especially for a divorce-inspired album released on what some coin as the most loving day of the year, the record packs an emotionally weighted punch.

Rolling Up the Welcome Mat is chock full of the song-writing fans crave from the likes of Adele and Kasey Musgraves, straddling the area between country and pop. Reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s footsteps, Ballerini even released a short film that visualizes each of the tracks from the album. Ballerini creates sounds that others have perfected in a way that is uniquely her own. After all, on three of the six tracks she is the sole song-writing credit. 

And it shows—on Rolling Up the Welcome Mat Ballerini is perhaps the best she has ever been, at an emotional cost that shouldn’t be ignored, but makes for heartfelt music that sinks into the strings of one’s heart. The opening track, “Mountain with a View” eases listeners into the fraught journey Ballerini has been on herself, bracketed with the same opening and closing lyric: “It’s 7 a.m. and I’m on a mountain with a view / I’m the only one, alone, at a table meant for two.” 

“Just Married” is a song-title that invokes positive imagery for the common person,  yet it’s the hardest song to listen to on the record. It’s a sonic snapshot of how it feels to fall out of love with someone, suddenly aware of the ever-growing cracks in the foundation of a relationship. 

Its follower, “Penthouse,” is the crowning jewel of the record: tackling the concept of making a house a home with the one you love, or in this case, learning to do it yourself. The uptick and change (thematically and sonically) when the bridge closes out, combined with Ballerini’s pleading vocals, is immaculate. It’s why 20-something and younger women on TikTok (who may or may not have gone through their own version of a divorce, bad breakup or heartache) have latched onto this one. 

The 46-second track “Interlude” shouldn’t be skipped over either, for it shifts the tone of the rest of the record. It’s an anomaly sound-wise, with a more heavy pop-production. It shows that even in the depths of grief, Ballerini’s song-writing can hit you squarely and succinctly in the gut in less than a minute. “Blindsided” follows that tone shift and is the angriest song on the album, so to say—less retrospective and more reactive. With the voice-note add-in and Ballerini’s grief transferring into dawning realization, it’s both stark and compelling. 

The album closer, “Leave Me Again,” is softer, a song you’d be lucky to hear at your local open night mic, with delicate vocals: there is more reverence for herself outside of the ended relationship. It closes the album’s journey off in a fitting way, painting a portrait of self-discovery. 

In a way, you could pair each of the tracks to one of the five stages of grief: denial (“Mountain With a View”), anger “(Blindsided”), bargaining (“Penthouse” and “Interlude”), depression (“Just Married”) and acceptance (“Love Me Again”). But, even without that guiding theme, this collection of devastating songs not only cements Ballerini into the hall of country-pop fame but opens doors for her future as an artist. 

On Rolling Up the Welcome Mat she is strong, vulnerable, authentic and unafraid to step into the next phase of her life—that means not just closing the chapter on her past, but taking those lessons forward with her, for better or worse. –Palak Jayswal