Forty-five minutes after the posted kickoff time, the chants began as the lights of the Ryman Auditorium came on. “Jeleeeeee! Jelllllll! Jelleeeeeeeeeee! JELLY!”
For most people on the coast and the genteel society on the flyover, the Jelly Roll phenomenon, a rapper-turned-country outlet sensation, may have yet to be recorded. Even for music industry experts, the jaundiced eye can picture it as another hip-hop sister country expansion, albeit some serious facial ink.
But for what served as the debut party for Jason DeFord’s first feature-length country broadcast, “Whitsitt Chapel,” hitting theaters this weekend, Wednesday’s sold-out audience response was somewhere between an altar call and a full-blown revival. To a mixed crowd of old people, tattooed people, guys with reverse hats, zaftig chicks, toddlers, a mixed crowd of 20s wearing 12-step/healing shirts, and a crowd of ordinary working-class people who don’t. The inconspicuous night was an affirmation of their own values in a world that quickly judged or rejected them.
The stage turned red when the lights were turned off and a giant skull with golden eyes illuminated the screen behind the stage, the screams deafening. While the band looked like standard modern metal, a strumming banjo marked the entrance to the man they had come to see.
Jelly Roll moved forward with shining gold teeth, equally shining on stage, and overwhelmed with emotion. As the group gained momentum, Jelly, as her fans called her, launched the album’s opening track, “Halfway to Heaven.” Like Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33,” the song turned upside down in a juxtaposition search that suggested that no matter how lost someone could be found and saved.
What seems appropriate rhetoric at a time when Christian values, often long in judgment and incapable of forgiveness, are polarized, is a lived-in sermon for the 300-pound rapper. A convicted criminal and drug dealer who has served multiple prison terms, has lost family and friends to addiction, overdose, and being shot, and is determined to help others avoid the same fate.
Since Merle Haggard and Johnny Paycheck, mainstream country music hasn’t seen an artist sing about being on the wrong side of the law or the consequences, let alone spending time there. The originality of Jelly Roll creates a fierce bond with the audience that ignites such ecstatic devotion.
The fact that its redemption was not used as a club to preach to its fans further deepened a rabid subculture. Last year, Jelly Roll sold Nashville’s much larger Bridgestone Arena.
At Ryman’s more intimate Ryman, where the documentary “Save Me” debuted last night, Jelly Roll wanted to play an entire album of largely unconventional material for an audience of hardcore fans before releasing the country/hard-rock song cycle. general public. After “Halfway,” he nodded and greeted the crowd, “Sit down. Let’s hang out.”
He spent the next 70 minutes sitting by himself telling stories about how the songs were written, the life he lived, and how those songs worked together. Clearly overwhelmed with love, the 39-year-old songwriter was about to share “Whitsitt Chapel” as an album with the people who were there for 17 albums (!!), various collaborations, genre shifts AND an industry. He didn’t realize what he was trying to do until the rise that started with the #1 country radio “Son of Sinner”.
Equally emo and Texan songwriter “Sinner” explored the overlap between Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and Townes Van Zant’s “Pancho & Lefty.” He weighed the silent, flawed humanity and embraced the broken-down bravado of a man who lived just beyond the law, seeking a morality that could set him free. As arrogant as it sounds, Jelly Roll presents such facts in such a way that people living in counties with well below standards of literacy can describe them as their own.
What Hillary Clinton might consider “pathetic” is a section of humanity that is just as powerful as the intellectual elite. More than just labels, however, Jelly Roll recognizes sex workers, ex-convicts, those struggling with addiction, and those mourning those whose lives have been ruined by loss, as something worth thinking about and refusing to judge.
When “Whitsitt’s” song cycle started to peak, he talked about not getting into politics “out of here” on stage. He then criticized big meds and said he could get a prescription for Fentanyl, herion and Oxycontin, but not a bag of herbs. He didn’t punch directly about the real epidemic, then turned to attack the reckless drug brokerage’s biggest loss: people’s lives.
In a gentler tone, she called out to anyone in Ryman, whoever that person was succumbing to addiction, and said that the next song was for them and to share it with their loved and sinking person.
“It” only started with an acoustic guitar; his voice was raw and forward with a rather harsh mix. A big rock ballad, the kind that fueled ’90s hair metal bands, a video of a grown woman in the final stages of what opioid addiction sang as she ran after her. “It was the heart of the party,” the chorus complains before facing the inevitable, “I wish I’d known before I went too far / I’m afraid of losing him now, afraid to go down…”
Sobering. Let this be your cover. BOOM.
The words “Nobody Is Too Far” were superimposed on the images behind it. Beneath the words “800-662-CALL FOR HELP” was a lifeline for anyone struggling. In a world where NARCAN is a fact of life, a rising superstar’s passionate engagement creates a bond of trauma that people can use to elevate themselves.
Not that the night was gloomy. Jelly Roll’s talk is conversational and contains long humor. By joking, he radiated an unmistakable joy rarely seen in this kind of musical intensity. He had obviously come to savor the moment.
Onstage buddies Brantley Gilbert and frequent collaborator Struggle Jennings, who rap as well as sing, appeared early for “Behind Bars.” In this trap country ballad, the trio literally worked a delayed rhythm. And Metaphorical drink charges from Highwaymen to Nelson, Jennings, Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash that attest to a similar easy friendship.
Next, YelaWolf, all-black, in aviator sunglasses and a Metallica T-shirt, would give a scorching rap on her visionary, small-key trailer-life portrait “Unlive.” This song, co-written with Ashley McBryde, was a cinematic-truth song that served as perhaps the most impressive moment of the night.
Before leaving the stage, Yelaworld applauded the success of his peers, saying, “For all of us, we’ve tried all these years, but you’re the one who found the formula…” Strayed, left out, feeling thrown – Yelawolf spoke up for anyone who came to see one of their victory laps. Jelly Roll nodded, half embarrassed, half excited.
For the Antakya, TN-born and bred artist, songs about salvation were a gift, found at traffic lights, in the back rows of churches where he wasn’t always welcome, on the edge of the wrong kind of crowd, and even in prison. she wanted to pass. He didn’t come to deliver righteousness, but she did come to imply that there is a way out even in the most tumultuous moments.
“Dancing With the Devil,” the second-to-last song on “Whitsitt Chapel,” acknowledged that familiar sins had not disappeared. Indeed, life is often lived on both sides of the line; There may be time jumps and the good times may drift away from you. But stumble is not failure.
When “Devil” became piano-only, Jelly was free to choose the timing of the chorus; The fluidity of his performance shows that one’s humanity is transformed into something that bends rather than breaks. The crowd flowed side by side with their hands in the air and time.
As the father of a 15-year-old girl, he’s not the same guy she made up when she started rolling from town to town in a van and trying to make a career. There is so much to be thankful for these days. She is also aware of vigilance and knows that reaching for more than a bottle, pill, vape or bad decision is an active proposition.
For anyone facing the same struggles, the Jelly Roll is their Springsteen. A better singer than you can imagine takes the guise of what some call poor white scum, then tells their stories, offers salvation they can truly reach, and perhaps most profoundly says that your corrupt lifestyle is okay.
It’s not perfect, but it is. It’s not going and Jelly Roll knows it. But these songs—and this album, named after the chapel where he grew up and teeming with sulphurous sermons—offer a way to find more than the standard stalemate of flattening in a market bathroom, trick-or-treating at diesel parties, or worse.
His intentions were clear with the episodes “Son of a Sinner” and “Save Me”. Tonight and this project will be more than a blessing. He prayed for the best of all: work in progress, life unraveling. It’s not easy but that’s what they’ve got and with this soundtrack, Jelly Roll delivers songs they can believe in along the way.