Cory Chisel at the Turf Club, 6/28/12

Cory Chisel at the Turf Club, 6/28/12
Photo by Natalie Gallagher

See Also:
Cory Chisel on belief, Brendan Benson, and the joy of performance

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons
with Farewell, Milwaukee
Turf Club, St. Paul

Thursday, June 28, 2012

No one was looking when folk and Americana became the new pop music, with just enough songs about drinking whiskey and being heartbroken to hold universally appealing for anyone who has ever been sad once. These heartfelt, earnest bands with their banjos and tambourines are a dime a dozen these days -- it doesn't mean they're not all talented, it just means it's getting harder to separate the good from the great and the great from the timeless.

Enter Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons. The Wisconsin native who grew up shielded from pop music, the son of a Baptist preacher and a pianist mother, offers listeners more than a quick fix. His latest full-length album, Old Believers, released this past Tuesday, is an extraordinary songwriting achievement: Chisel takes listeners through a vast array of themes, from protest politics to heartbreak to redemption, and he does it as smoothly as a swan gliding over calm waters.

It was in support of Old Believers that Chisel took the stage at the Turf Club last night, one of the first nights in a slew of tour dates that will take him through the Midwest and the East Coast from now until the end of August. He was in fine spirits the entire evening, smiling pleasantly at the eager crowd. It was a solid turnout -- not cramped, but solid. The Turf has a small enough room where there's enough space for Chisel to see everyone and vice versa, to smile at individual faces and get comfortable. It's in this atmosphere that Chisel can really shine.

Cory Chisel sounds great on record. Old Believers is a standout album, no questions asked. It's so good an album that, when you listen to it the first time, you doubt the artist will be able to pull off that kind of emotion and authenticity live. In person, some musicians can ruin the magic like the way movies ruin books.

Not Chisel. In the course of his nearly two-hour set at the Turf last night, he stacked each song on top of the last like a perfect deck of cards. There's something like sand and saltwater and back-roads gospel in his voice, and Chisel takes that power and delivers it flawlessly on tracks like the Woody Guthrie-inspired "Times Won't Change."

One of the most stand-out moments of the evening came with "Pale Blue Dress," a track off Chisel's 2007 album, Little Bird. It's a slow-burning, delicate gem of a tune, and Chisel introduced it towards the end, after getting the crowd all riled up with good times.

"I'm going to gage your attention at this point in the evening by asking you a few
questions. One was if there was another shot for me," said Chisel as another glass of brown liquor appeared in front of him, "And yes, there is. Two, is it okay if my next song is a flow one?" The crowd assented. "I wrote this song while being pulled over, and whatever I paid for this ticket was worth it, because I wrote this little song after."

Chisel won't be long for these small, intimate shows where audiences really have a chance to get up close and personal. Between being interviewed by Nylon, being featured in Esquire, writing songs with Roseanne Cash, and touring with both Murder by Death and Norah Jones this summer, it's safe to say that Chisel has far bigger stages in his future. But for now, the early adopters -- and the exceptionally smart fans at the Turf Club last night -- can sit back in satisfaction and look forward to a lot more great music from Chisel and his Wandering Sons.

Critic's bias: See my interview with Chisel last year at Soundtown
here and a few days ago here. Yes, I'm a fan (but for the record, I'm not easily won over so whole-heartedly).

The crowd: No more than 70 people there, tops, and that might be generous--I wasn't paying attention enough to anyone else. Lots of enthusiastic people, some had clearly been old fans, and a few people who were crying during "Foxgloves."

Overheard in the crowd: "We're all listening!" yelled some guy before Chisel launched into "Pale Blue Dress."

Set list: I grabbed a picture of what was on the stage, but this is incomplete--"These Four Walls" and "Times Won't Change" had a place on here somewhere, along with a few others (Chisel's set was about an hour and 45 minutes, guys). 

Cory Chisel at the Turf Club, 6/28/12

See Also:
Cory Chisel on belief, Brendan Benson, and the joy of performance

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