The name Cory Chisel is not one most people recognize. As a country singer, his genre of music already plummets him to the bottom of the charts. However, his underdog accomplishments should make him a superhero in the music industry. Not only has he collaborated with artists like Norah Jones and Roseanne Cash, but he’s also a Grammy nominee, has appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and has received the awards of Artist, Song, and Record of the Year from Wisconsin Area Music Industry. His newest album, Tell Me True, holds its own amongst these fantastic awards, transporting you to an October sunset on the porch as Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, releasing their first album under that name, lull you into a perpetual sense of peace and comfort.
Cory Chisel has worked with Adriel Denae before, under the name The Wandering Sons. This brilliant band released two LPs before Tell Me True. Their debut, Death Won’t Send a Letter, “ended up sounding like barnburner, rock n’ roll songs,” according to Chisel. So, for their second album, they took a step back and recorded Old Believers in the Welcome to 1979 Studio. “Instead of having endless options to do hundreds and hundreds of tracks,” Chisel told the Rolling Stone, “recording on tape makes for a more satisfying experience to me.” He hung on to this experience for Tell Me True, trying to create a simple and organic sound. To complete this, he and Adriel Denae founded the Refuge Foundation for the Arts, a recording studio for musicians that didn’t want to turn out music simply for profit. This is where the simple but elegant Tell Me True was born.
A chugging guitar provides both a melody and percussion in Tell Me True’s twelve-song lineup. On top of it, glorious harmonies in songs like “Deeper Love,” “Just Pleasing You,” and “Songbird” make the album pleasing to the ear. Its simplistic style, especially in songs like “Spend It All,” make the combined voices of Denae and Chisel incredibly prominent, and help the listener relax into the soothing sounds it creates. Meanwhile, other songs, like “Hard Leaving” and “Lose Our Way” include more instruments - “Deeper Love” even includes what sounds like a strings orchestra, but it takes away nothing; in fact, these educated decisions just enrich the songs’ sounds.
The music isn’t all that enriched Tell Me True’s sound, though. Cory Chisel received his Grammy nomination for his work on The Traveling Kind, by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, who thought him a good fit for lyrical work. They wasn’t the only one who thought so; numerous artists (including Norah Jones and Rosanne Cash) have asked Cory Chisel to songwrite for them. Possibly the most obvious example of his mastery is in “Well Beyond Your Years,” where he writes, “Anyone can notice/you’ve been blooming right before us/and it’s not some kind of ordinary yield/as the time keeps raising/it ain’t the only thing that’s changing/you can free yourself from any kind of fear.” The delicate metaphors in “Just Pleasing You” show a great understanding of the craft, with lyrics like “Out on the point of no return/I crossed a bridge I could not burn/I turned down a road that led straight to/just pleasing you.”
I’ve never been a country fan, but Cory Chisel opened my eyes to the genre. Any music listener, from a Beatlemaniac to a Swiftie, should grab their earbuds and give Tell Me True a try. You’ll soon be swept into Chisel’s “Southern Arms.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.