Chelle Rose – Ghost of Browder Holler (2012)

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I’ve never been a big fan of female country singers. It’s something about the twang in the voice that just doesn’t appeal to me most of the time. The new crop of women in the underground country movement may just be changing my tune, though.

First, there was Rachel Brooke with her Patsy Cline-meets-sultry chanteuse vocals. Now, there’s Chelle Rose, which is something altogether different. Rose’s heavy Appalachian drawl gives her an in-your-face vocal style that, at times, is not pretty at all, but it’s always effective. Rose calls her sound Appalachian Rock ‘n’ Roll, and on these 12 songs, produced by Texas music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard – who also plays guitar, percussion, harmonica and lends his voice to a couple of tracks – she runs the range of emotions from soft and sentimental to rowdy honky-tonk to raucous rock ‘n’ roll.

The different sides of the singer/songwriter are underscored by the two best tracks on Ghost of Browder Holler, which are as different as can be. Opening track “Browder Holler Boy” is a slinky, attitude-filled number that’s full of defiance and darkness, and Hubbard’s ghostly backing vocals on the chorus add to the atmosphere. It’s built with the instruments and sounds of her native Tennessee , but certainly infused with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.

Then there’s “Weeping Willow on the Hill,” which is a more traditional-style female country song … but not really. It’s soft, low and heartfelt, and Rose tones down the snarl in her drawl and delivers a truly beautiful vocal over a song that mixes the bluegrass of her native Appalachians with more of a 1970s country feel. It’s a fantastic blend.

Rose can get a little funky when she wants to, too. That comes out on “Rufus Morgan (Preacher Man),” which tells the story of a famous Smoky Mountain preacher. The song intentionally evokes the Dusty Springfield classic “Son of a Preacher Man,” and the groove of the song is an interesting counterpoint to its subject.

Typically, I’m more drawn to the rowdy side of country and there’s plenty of that to like on this record beyond that opening song. “Leona Barnett” is a hard tune that tells the story of a hard worman who goes to work in the coal mines after her man dies in an accident. The chorus of the song is undeniable, and it perfectly matches the subject of the song. “Rattlesnake in the Road” the very rural metaphor of a road-crossing rattlesnake that’s going to come to a very unpleasant end after turning on the singer. “Shady Grove Gonna Blow” again hits that right mix of country and rock attitude that she hit on “Browder Holler Boy.”

Of the softer songs, “Weeping Willow on the Hill” is far and away the best, but there are no slouches. “If I Could” and “Damsel” both have kind of an indie rock ballad feel, while “Wild Violets Pretty” is a more deeply traditional number.

Oh, and I did mention rock ‘n’ roll a few times. Yep, there are a couple of those, too. “I Need You” is an alternative country rocker, if that makes any sense, with a pretty hot lead guitar sound that reminds me a little of Kenny Wayne Shepherd. It’s a bit of a shock to the system coming out of two very country numbers to start the record, but the song that might throw listeners for a real loop is “Alimony.” You’ll hear a little ZZ Top in the first few bars, and then it drops into a caustic, punk-influenced verse. It offers the flipside of all the male country songs about the woman they’re still paying for. It’s probably the shallowest song on the record, but still a lot of fun.

It’s not often that I get to say this, but there really is nothing quite like Chelle Rose out there that I’ve heard. She truly marries the spirit and sound of her Appalachian upbringing with a fierce attitude that’s more often found in female punk rockers than country singers. Appalachian rock ‘n’ roll indeed.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips
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