THE LAST LOST CHORD: Judy Collins and Others
Ghost of Browder Holler by Chelle Rose
(Thorn Pricked Records, 2012)
by William Gay
The fact that Ray Wiley Hubbard produced this album is probably reason enough to buy it or download it or whatever you do to get music these days. But you’ll be getting a lot more than that. This is one of those albums that you put on, hoping it will be good, and it turns out to be better than you had any right to expect. If you were playing it on a turntable, you’d keep moving the tonearm back to play certain tracks over again.
First, there’s her voice: smoky and bluesy and direct as early John Prine, wise and sardonic, as if she’s seen it all and not been terribly impressed by any of it. Nothing tentative here—Rose calls her music “Appalachian rock & roll,” and she ought to know. Some of these songs sound like the strains of Appalachian murder ballads played at top volume through a Marshall amplifier, heavy on the drums and the guitar, violent and pastoral at the same time.
Rose wrote most of the songs on Ghost of Browder Holler herself, and the best of them have the stark, honest quality of a good short story, or one of those Hemingway character sketches that sticks in your mind like old sepia photographs from some mountain woman’s picture-box. One of the high points—and there’s no shortage of high points on this record—is “Alimony,” which sounds like a revenge song about love gone off the rails, and, if it is, it draws blood. Rose sounds positively gleeful as she sings over a take-no-prisoners rock & roll backing, “I got a house in the country and you ain’t got no key” and the chorus taunts, “You said the music I made was a waste of time and money / Now I’m here to rock & roll you with some alimony.”
The last cut on the record, “Wild Violets Pretty” has a strange and eerie beauty that demands repeated listening and sounds as if rock & roll is being reborn in the hills and hollers of East Tennessee, and maybe it is.