In the town of Appleton, Wisconsin, there is an old converted monastery that has birthed records and raised babies: forthcoming LP's by Traveller (Cory Chisel, Robert Ellis and Jonny Fritz) and Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles, and a growing boy who runs its halls, Rhodes, the son of Chisel and his partner Adriel Denae, who founded the non-profit Refuge Foundation for the Arts there. But Tell Me True, the first duets album from Chisel and Denae, is a culmination of all those things: the life they have together, the music they create in that hallowed space and the community they are fostering in the chapel which now doubles as an artist residence and creative sanctuary. And its first track "Songbird," premiering exclusively at Rolling Stone Country, is a gorgeous folk ode to the magic of shaping melodies – and memories – together.
"Adriel and I have taken many steps into the unknown together because we felt a calling to do so," Chisel tells Rolling Stone Country. "This song was a way to ready our ship for where we needed to direct ourselves next. We made many intense life decisions during that time of creating. We welcomed our son back to earth, and devoted ourselves to the stewardship of a former monastery to create a place for artists to work outside the debt system set in place by the traditional industries."
Set to a simple, emotive chug of the guitar, "Songbird" is a chronicle of both the pair's creative and romantic chemistry – their voices intertwined in a delicate and perfectly balanced harmony. Tell Me True is full of moments that rest on the strength of their voices and thoughtful lyricism over complex orchestration, ending with a song, "Rhodes Interlude," that includes a snippet of their son (the track's namesake), serving as the conclusion of the album but also a reminder of the future Chisel and Denae hold together.
Produced by Dan Knobler (Feist, Rodney Crowell), Tell Me True is Chisel's first record in five years under his own name, and the first solo release from Chisel and Denae together, who have been making music as Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons since 2004's Again From the Beginning. Before moving back to his hometown of Appleton to execute his vision at the Refuge, Chisel spent the time since his last LP, Old Believers, in Nashville, touring with Traveller, putting on his yearly music festival, Mile of Music, and writing songs with Rosanne Cash as well as Emmylou Harris and Crowell – the title track to The Traveling Kind, which earned him a Grammy nomination. Denae launched a skincare line with Jen Auerbach (married to Dan Auerbach) called Clary Collection, and recorded a forthcoming solo LP produced by Norah Jones.
After years in the business, both on major labels and independent, Chisel and Denae found themselves disenchanted with the way the traditional process (and, more importantly, the cost) of releasing music was often squashing creative promise and putting undue pressure on arbitrary things like release dates – so they founded the Refuge in an 80-year-old monastery, and built a recording studio. There, the duo house artists-in-residence, provide a new home for the local radio station and work to give musicians financial freedom to make music without an intense pressure for instant profit. With an endowment supported in part by the proceeds from Nashville's Dylan Fest, Chisel hopes records made at the Refuge will let artists organically grow and foster their audience, without a ticking clock or draining back account. Appropriately, all of the proceeds from Tell Me True will go directly back to the Refuge to continue that creative cycle.
Tell Me True will be available August 4th.