DARK CHAPTERS, SWEET MEMORIES
COURSE THROUGH CHELLE ROSE’S BLUE RIDGE BLOOD,
RELEASING AUGUST 5
Nashville royal Buddy Miller contributes harmonies to title track
on George Reiff-produced follow-up to 2012’s Ghost of Browder Holler
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If great art comes from adversity, Nashville singer-songwriter Chelle Rose figured she was ready to paint her masterpiece when she recorded Blue Ridge Blood, releasing August 5, 2016 on her own Lil’ Damsel Records.
She thought she’d weathered some serious storms before making her last one, 2012’s lauded Ghost of Browder Holler. But it turned out there was still some cleaning up to do, some history that had to be reckoned with if she was ever going to fix the damage permanently.
In these 11 tracks, Rose saws away at a branch or two of her family tree, revealing the most serious sinner and lamenting the self-destructive streaks others can’t escape. But despite the darkness in these songs, some of which could fit right in the next night-stalking supernatural-creature feature, Rose is, in fact, pretty darned upbeat.
That could be because, after years of struggling with an undiagnosed thyroid disease, she finally knows what it is and has figured out how to treat it. Or it could be that she’s newly engaged, to a man she’s sure she wouldn’t have connected with had the disease not slowed her down enough to notice him. Or maybe it’s because a Creek Indian shaman showed her how to find “the gift” in even the most devastating experiences, then drop their psychic weight like a bag of rocks.
She already knew how to channel the pain into her songs. Like Southern sisters Shelby Lynne and Mary Gauthier, Rose balances toughness with vulnerability, charming us while voicing lyrics of brutal honesty. Sung in her deep contralto and broad-voweled Appalachian dialect, they tend to carry the tone of murder ballads — even if she’s singing about the legendary “Southern 4501” train or a lover who’s stuck on someone else (as in “Dammit Darlin”).
She’s maternally rooted on “both sides of the mountain” — East Tennessee and western North Carolina — but her talent comes from her paternal side, a long line of South Knoxville musicians. She played piano in secret while growing up in Lenoir City, Tenn., with her maternal grandparents, who raised her after her parents split; the woman she called Momma eventually figured out creativity was the key to Rose’s happiness.
“She got me into music and art and dance. And changed my life,” Rose recalls.
She was working as an accountant in her 20s when an unexpected gift of a guitar further changed her life. The torrent of songs it unleashed was like a wake-up call; she’d let her creative side wither for too long, and it needed nurturing. Moving to Nashville in 1996, she immersed herself in the local music scene and studied at the feet of her songwriting heroes. (Though she was heartbroken to arrive just in time for the funeral of her greatest hero, Townes Van Zandt.) In 2000, she released her debut album, Nanahally River. Then she concentrated on motherhood and marriage, but in 2008, the union ended. She fled to Leiper’s Fork — a period she addresses in “Hidin’ Hole.”
The ache in its lyrics might have drawn a frown from her grandmother; in the sweet closing ballad, “Sing Pretty,” Rose confesses, “Momma always wanted me sing pretty/hurts her to hear the pain that I pour out.”
The album is dedicated to her grandmother, who passed away in 2014; that’s her ringleted “little pouty mountain face” in an album-sleeve baby photo. It’s a reference to the title song, which features Buddy Miller’s harmonies over Sergio Webb’s fine dobro work.
“People always tell me I look pissed off in photos,” Rose explains. “I don’t even know I’m doing it, but I get a stern look when you put a camera on me. Momma would tell me, ‘Your mouth’s gonna get stuck like that.’ I didn’t know what she was talkin’ about.” While perusing old family photos, she realized they all shared that look. “It’s a mountain thing,” Rose claims. “That’s Blue Ridge blood right there.”
Blue Ridge blood also courses through the powerful “Mean Grandpappy,” a man whose funeral, she sings, drew “not a tear in the eye of any of his kin.”
She’s discovering more about that side of the family now that she’s getting to know her biological father, with whom she’d had no contact until last year — despite living minutes away. It wasn’t for lack of trying. In “Daddy, I’m Still Here,” a diatribe on her first album, she even addresses the unanswered Christmas cards.
Later, she learned just how complicated his own childhood had been. When his second wife died, she bought a card, then spent months wondering what to write. During a trip to Lenoir City to help clean out Momma’s house, she finally mailed it. That very day, he happened to call — for the first time ever. They spoke for hours, then he said, “We need to get together.”
“How about in 30 minutes?” she answered. “I drove straight to his house, knocked on the door, and just … tears and hugs.” Last Christmas, instead of a card, he met his grandchildren. She’s looking forward to having him attend her wedding to Johnathon Hamilton, who plays mandolin on the album. Recorded in Austin with producer George Reiff, it also contains contributions by Rick Richards, Sergio Webb, Billy Cassis and Bukka Allen.
She met Reiff while recording the Ray Wylie Hubbard-produced Ghost of Browder Holler. On that one, Rose had breathing troubles, which made singing difficult. She thought it was anxiety-induced. Reiff, unsure if it might still be an issue, decided to capture her vocals live with the band — without telling her. He got exactly what he wanted.
“I was pretty relaxed because I thought I would be overdubbing the vocals, but I got tricked,” she says, laughing. What she didn’t tell him is that she was nervous, too, because she was still trying to rebuild her strength. Ironically, Ghost’s success nearly ended her career.
Right away, it earned raves. Comparing her to her idols — Lucinda Williams, Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Alejandro Escovedo “and other terse, unflinching songwriters on the rock fringe of country” — The New York Times’ Jon Pareles noted, “She sings about hard-nosed characters — herself, perhaps, among them — and ways to face tough situations, and the answer is as much in the grain of her voice and the sinewy guitars as in her words.”
Her energy dwindled further as she worked to support it. “I started turning down gigs and makin’ excuses. I was in bed for almost two years. And didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t want anybody to know. Finally, my best friend said, ‘You need to get some blood work. There’s something really wrong.’”
Blood work. Yes, as it turns out, that’s exactly what she’s done. But as she cheerily notes, “Nobody goes through this life unscathed. I wouldn’t trade any of it. It’s all intertwined.”
Just like that Blue Ridge blood.
For more information about Chelle Rose and Blue Ridge Blood please contact Conqueroo: Cary Baker • (323) 656-1600 • email@example.com