You can tell a lot from the guests on a country album – and there’s ALWAYS loads of guests on a country album.
On “Whitsitt Chapel,” Jelly Roll has the wonderful Lainey Wilson on “Save Me,” a gorgeous ballad. He also has Brantley Gilbert and Struggle Jennings on “Behind Bars,” a homage to the drinks in the local dive. But crucially, he has Yelawolf on the wonderful standout “Unlive,” on which Yelawolf continues his white trash exploration, as he did on the collaboration with Shooter Jennings last year.
That speaks surely to the crossover potential of Roll (Jason DeFord to his mates). The first artist this decade to top the rock charts while in the country charts too, he’s a big deal, and this is primed for stardom.
Named after the church he used to attend in Antioch, Nashville, “….Chapel” is a world away from the romance of the small towns.
Instead, this is a battle. “Halfway To Hell” sets itself up for the fight, and if religion is never too far away in the worlds, then “Church” makes it clear. “The Lost,” though, also makes clear that it’s not about Fire And Brimstone. “My kinda people,” he offers, “aren’t at home underneath church steeples.”
And it’s those types of people – the left behind, the disenfranchised, and the rest – that this is about. “Kill A Man” is a gorgeous ballad, “Need A Favor” is the Sinners’ prayer (and it’s noticeable that he co-writes all of these).
Jelly Roll is a man for whom music matters. A former drug addict and dealer, “Dancing With The Devil” and others clearly come from a place of true reality, and the final confession, if you will, comes in the form of “Hungover In Church Pew,” and that’s typical.
I can’t empathise. I am not religious, I know nothing of the life Jelly Roll has led, the hardship he’s experienced, yet after “Whitsitt Chapel,” you feel close to him somehow.
More than that, though, there’s no arena in America that’s going to be big enough to hold him.
On a roll? Yep. And no mistake.