Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The centerpiece to Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons' debut full-length record - "Death Won't Send A Letter" - comes forward with just one song remaining. It's buried deep in the blankets, coming after we've seen plenty of the hots and colds, all of the lonesomeness that the Wisconsin native Chisel is so fond of, that he's seen from close up and at a distance. There's a reason that "Tennessee" is the heart, soul and pumping blood of this album, so anchored in the "days that pass like autumn wind," as well as the hearty and winter-battered sensations that Chisel carves out of these vibrant and gorgeous folk rock songs that he's become so good at making in such a short amount of time. The song is a log on fire - such a nice thing to sit around and just let roast us a little bit. We get a lot from it, a feeling that we're immune to the kind of sadness sung about in the song that's known to break men into crumbs and we can feel it radiating with its wild and unpredictable, fingery flames. It wraps around us like rabid flumes of smoke rising from the popping, blackening pieces of wood murdered for heat meant to tend human hands and cheeks and feet on cold nights. It's a stunning, three-minute work that at times hints at a Simon and Garfunkel jam, but is wholly its own in sentiment of "dying to love someone like you love," and this chilly, but not meant to be thought of, "We will all die young if we're lucky babe." It sounds as if the words are coming from someone who is praying or calling out to a desolate sky - a sky that contains nothing, that houses nothing but pure silence, that is not going to give him a sign or answer back in any conceivable or recognizable way. Those pleas will just go on banging against the overcast cushioning, ringing on for days and weeks until it finally has no more energy and just plunges to a vaporous grave. There are countless poetic moments, even just in the first few seconds as Chisel sings, "Lift a match to my morning eyes," but the song is not full of anything that could really be taken as cheerful - though a loving comparison of some tender emotion being similar to a treasured Volunteer state is something along those lines, feeling like a sunrise on the waterfront. Chisel admits that there are a few lines from the song that have caused him some grief with some of the people in his life - maybe the one about half-wishing to die young, but most likely the one where the speaker says that he would "spit in my savior's face," those kinds of words aren't taken kindly by the zealots or even the half-hearted churchgoers. All is well though, because "Tennessee" is a song that delivers so much insight and so much compassion for the ever-tinkering drama that happens to be the struggle that we're all faced with. It's a struggle that doesn't have to be unpleasant, but it's certainly never too goddamned easy. It just isn't and the way that Chisel lets his precise and soothing voice couple with that of his keyboardist Adriel Harris' own voice is something that disproves most, if not all failings or disappointments that may pop up in that drama. When he sings on the non-album track, "I'm Not The Man I Thought You'd Meet," recorded here, along with the other three songs in this session, nearly a year ago here in Rock Island, "We'll chase ecstasy til something breaks," we're all in concert: things will break and that will just add to the melody.
Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons Official Site