Cory Chisel is nothing if not well connected. That’s how his first full-length, Death Won’t Send A Letter, got into our hands. About half that record is produced by Brendan Benson, a noted solo artist in his own right, but assuredly best known as a member of The Raconteurs. Benson, once removed, is the connection to Cory that got us a copy of his Black Seal Records release. Benson makes a guest appearance on the record as do Raconteurs bandmates Little Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler. My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel lends a little pedal steel too.
When you’ve got a bunch of guys like that helping you out on your debut LP, it’s not surprising that Rolling Stone picked up on him in September and described him as a country roots rocker. We’ve been through the record a couple times now and despite an acoustic guitar and Cory’s taste for outfits that look like they came from the cast wardrobe of Gunsmoke, we don’t think he really fits anything we would call country or roots. Which isn’t to say this record isn’t worth listening to, we’re just saying it doesn’t sound much like that.
More than anything else we can put our finger on Cory sounds like John Mayer, which may be worth a couple million in record sales, right? Any other references that came to mind had more to do with Cory’s image (think Black Crowes meet Waylon Jennings) or big acoustic strums (think Josh Ritter) than what really came out in the songs. There’s never a point when this record either feels blues enough to drop it in with the Robinson brothers’ work or country enough to get near the Outlaw. When he reaches for literary references like Mr. Ritter, as he does on the album’s closer “Mockingbird,” it doesn’t strike us with the clarity or insight we might hope for.
This record is American rock of the sort last seen about 20 years ago – when rock records could include elements of traditional American music and simply be considered rock. It’s not strictly a classic rock record though, it just leans in that direction. The keepers on this record (“Longer Time at Sea” or “Angel of Mine”) are those produced by Benson, whose pop leanings are evident. In fact, the trio of Benson produced songs in the middle of the record stand out as the record’s most notable tracks with each repeated listen. We might note that those are also the tracks that are most straightforward and sound least like any particular traditional genre. On the whole this music is very accessible and will please plenty of listeners.
This is the video for the single, “Born Again,” co-written by who else, Brendan Benson.