Old Believer \ Ōld bǝ-l ēvǝr\ n 1 : one who has been through a lot in their life and hasn’t lost hope 2 : one who doesn’t feel cynical and still feels connected to the world that we’re living in but is wise enough to know a thing or two about it 3 : OLD SOUL
Cory Chisel is an old believer. You can hear it in his music – there’s a wisdom beyond his years in that voice. You can see it in his story – the son of a preacher, sheltered from pop music, raised on hymns and Johnny Cash. “Mom played piano and organ, my dad did the preaching, the thing that my sister and I could add to the service was to sing.” As fate would have it, the kid was born to do it.
He grew up in the Iron Range town of Babbitt, Minnesota, and the rural flatlands of Appleton, Wisconsin. Along with the family’s spiritual doctrine, came a musician uncle, who taught Cory about the blues: Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Sonny Boy Williamson.
This musical education put young Cory on a path that was well worn by the greats who came before him and influenced him: people like Cash, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding. For Cory, songwriting is a by-product of existing. We all talk to ourselves. Cory does so with a melody. Those internal conversations are the seeds, the building blocks of his songs. “Where a painter, in order to express himself, would reach for a canvas and paints, I go to the guitar and try to build it out. Or sometimes songs just come fully-formed, usually, if I’m really sleep-deprived and driving for whatever reason, it’s like a radio station that my brain picks up.”
“Old Believers” is the second LP from Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons. The record, in Cory’s words, is about rebuilding, and there’s a directness that comes through in the songwriting. “Life is a series of creating things, living with the inevitable destruction of those things, and then finding within yourself the ability to create again.”
There’s brutal honesty in the soulful rock of “I’ve Been Accused.” The song suggests that sometimes with personal growth comes unhappiness, but ultimately you’ve got to step up. No pain, no gain. “Never Meant To Love You” is timeless, like something straight out of “The Great American Songbook.” It’s a story of unexpected love, plainly and elegantly told. For “Please Tell Me,” Cory says, “I went to my guitar instead of going to a phone and sent the message that way.” “Seventeen” deals beautifully with the simple truth of realizing that a certain portion of your life has passed.
The album was recorded in Nashville and produced by a great singer-songwriter in his own right, Brendan Benson (The Raconteurs). The two met while making Cory’s first album. They sat down to write a song together, and quickly found they were kindred spirits. “We had such a common language in the way we attacked music-making. Brendan is really great at bringing direction and bringing something out of me that is almost indescribable. He’s also the guy who can get behind the boards and pull it off.”
What Benson pulls off is an album of rich, authentic, rock-and-roll, drawing a straight line between the gospel and blues of Cory’s youth, and classic rock. He’s able to find the right space and color for each song, whether it’s the dangerous and dark mood of “Foxgloves,” the bright Brill Building meets Graham Nash vibe of “Laura,” or the straight-up traditional rollin’ and tumblin’ blues of “Over Jordan.”
The sound is filled out by a great cast of Nashville players including Jon Graboff and Brad Pemberton of The Cardinals (Ryan Adams), Matt Scibilia, and the Howling Brothers. The thing that truly brings this record to life, is Chisel’s long time keyboard player and singing partner Adriel Denae. Their voices fit together magically. It’s a fitting nod to her contribution that she opens “Old Believers” with the gorgeous prologue, “This Is How It Goes.”
“I think one of the best things about being a songwriter and about living a life as an artist, is that you really don’t get rid of anything, you kind of just drag it with you the rest of your life, and hopefully you can feel that on this record. We’re still dancing with those same inspired moments. This record is a culmination of all that.”
Written by Alex Levy