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June 29, 2016

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.


January 22, 2012


Ray Wylie Hubbard-produced second album due out May 1, 2012

Special guests include Elizabeth Cook, Ian McLagan and the McCrary Sisters.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Hardscrabble Appalachia is known for its bluegrass, moonshine and coal mines. Now, with the May 1 arrival of gut-honest singer-songwriter Chelle Rose’s second album Ghost of Browder Holler (Lil’ Damsel Records, street date May 1, 2012), add visceral rock ’n’ roll to that list.

Rose brings her elemental power to the 12-song disc produced by legendary Texas songsmith Ray Wylie Hubbard in Austin. And while those cuts, ripe with mystery and passion, sound like they were plucked from the kudzu-scented air of her native Loudon County in East Tennessee, they’re really written from life.

“When I get homesick, I pine for Western North Carolina sometimes even more so than East Tennessee,” says Rose, who moved to Nashville in 1996. “My maternal family lives on both sides of the Smoky Mountains. I grew up there among the people I still know and love. I've always felt connected and consoled by the mountains and my people there, so writing about them comes very natural to me. There are many settings and characters rich for the mining.”

The album’s opening track, “Browder Holler Boy,” is a perfect example. It kick-starts the set with a haunting slide guitar invocation and then spins a true tale of Rose’s first love, Timothy Andrew Helton, who died young in a canoeing accident, but returned to visit her as a noisy spirit. The tune also features Hubbard’s gritty supporting vocals and laid back harmonica. The heart of Rose’s close-to-the-bone sound — a driving approach she calls “Appalachian rock n roll” — thumps through the grinding, guitar-fueled “Alimony,” a playful but dead-serious account of the marriage she ended in order to attain her dream of becoming a songwriter and performer. There’s more than a hint of Exile on Main Street to “Rufus Morgan (Preacher Man),” which features legendary Faces keyboardist Ian “Mac” McLagan and Nashville’s leading spiritual singing family the McCrary Sisters. Rose wrote the song as a tribute to a rural holy man from her family tree, and its lyrics are a virtual tour of Western North Carolina’s richly forested land, where her “grannymom” often took her to visit other family members during childhood summers.

Like the sweet and gravelly edges of Rose’s expressive voice, other songs echo the beauty and harshness of Appalachian life. “Leona Barnett,” written by her fellow East Tennessean Adam Hill, is the story of a woman driven to work in the mines after her husband is killed in a mining accident. And “Wild Violets Pretty,” which features Grammy-nominated Americana star Elizabeth Cook as guest vocalist, is about losing an unborn child.

“Sometimes I can’t perform a song live until I’ve had time to heal from a deep wound, and often the healing begins with the song,” explains Rose. “I write a lot and don’t really look for material, so you know if I'm covering someone else’s song I am feeling it with every ounce of my soul.”

Although this Appalachian wildflower didn’t get her first guitar until she was 25, music was always a deep part of her life. “My daddy was a piano player and so was his daddy,” she relates. Sherri King, her biological father’s first cousin, had some minor country hits in the ’70s, but had the distinction of writing, singing and playing on her own recordings — which made her a rare triple threat in Nashville’s good ole boys club. She was also a member of the legendary group Barefoot Jerry, a band of player’s players, and was a featured vocalist with Charlie McCoy’s band. “One of my first musical memories was sitting on my Granny Rose’s floor listening to Sherri’s second album and just running the needle over and over it,” she recalls.

“I’d always sung and thought about maybe singing on a stage some day, but getting that guitar really woke something up in me,” Rose recounts. “I started listening to songwriters like Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and my gut told me I was most likely not going to continue working in accounting.”

So Rose relocated to Nashville in 1996 where she began seeing her inspirations in person. “As soon as I arrived I began ‘going to school’ to hear Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, Malcolm Holcombe, R.B. Morris, David Olney and Marshall Chapman. They were just a few of my favorites and some of them have become friends and mentors.

“When I moved from Knoxville to Nashville, Townes Van Zandt was at the top of my dream list of songwriters to hear live. I was devastated to hear of his passing in January 1997. I did however sit on a back church pew at his service, sad with regret that I would never get to hang with him. He played a huge part in my journey to become a songwriter.”

Rose’s next step was making her debut recording. “Being at home and writing Nanahally River in the late ’90s with a baby on my hip seemed completely natural and just as important as the deep well of writers I was exposed to on the music scene at that time,” she says.

Along with her mentor and musical kindred spirit David Hardman, Rose made her 2000 album Nanahally River in a basement studio. “Recording [it] was really casual with a lot of friends helping me out,” she says. “I paid J.D. Wilkes from the Legendary Shack Shakers to play harmonica on Nanahally River by cooking him chicken n dumplins. I like to think that added to the magic.”

Fast-forward 10 years. “More than a decade passed between albums because I was busy raising a family, but always writing when inspiration struck,” Rose continues. “I’ve never just sat down with a goal of writing a song. They just show up and I document them the best I can. Fate interceded in early fall of 2010 when I was snuggling with my daughter and had headphones on listening to Ray Wylie Hubbard do a live interview for Twisted South Radio. They asked him what he’d been listening to lately. He said, ‘Well, I’ve been listening to this songwriter from Nashville named Chelle Rose.’ I bolted up from the bed and heard him say he’d be interested in producing me. And the host, Zeke Loftin, who I had collaborated with on a charity event, said, ‘Chelle, if you’re listening you should call in.’ So I did, and I said, ‘You’re hired, let’s do it.’ A few weeks later I was off to Austin with my guitar and songs.”

For Ghost of Browder Holler, Hubbard handpicked the players, who convened at engineer/bassist George Reiff’s Austin studio. “Every morning we'd sit at the kitchen table and pull one of my songs out of the hat,” Rose says. “Then we'd work out an arrangement and either agree or disagree to cut it. It was a beautiful, intense process that resulted in a record I’m so proud of.” That spontaneous approach — and the band playing all the basic tracks together in the studio — helped preserve the disc’s cohesive live vibe.

“What’s in the tracks is some hard core blood, sweat and tears from myself and many talented musicians who were generous with their contributions to the arrangements and to the soul of this album,” Rose declares. “I tried to quit music, but it just wouldn’t quit me. I realized I need it like I need food, water, sleep and love. It’s not about chasing fame or any kind of fortune. It’s about a strong connection with who I am. I share my music because it creates a beautiful exchange of energy in my life. It most certainly is medicine for my own soul. If it has the same effect on others, then I’m blessed.”


Artist Photo