Thursday, December 7, 2023
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Jelly Roll – Whitsitt Chapel Review

Please, grab a pew. If it were not obvious enough, the latest Jelly Roll record is of the Christian gospel variety. He is here to preach the almighty word of the Big Man Upstairs, and his influence on Whitsitt Chapel is certainly clear. Trading the Dirty South stylings for a straight-shooting, God-fearing relationship with his listener, Jason DeFord is, hand on heart, touched by the gospel. His interest in the texts does not translate to interesting music though, with the country hoedown style of this personable piece a bitter one to accept or even engage. Halfway to Hell studies this quite nicely, the autobiographical charms collide with an awful mix and instrumental section which, more than anything, is just loud. Listen in close enough and you can hear the banjo. Even with tinnitus, it can be heard by the most fatigued of journalists.  

Mamma tried this, papa that, it all hits a little too close to the Bible Belt influence to be taken all that seriously. Perhaps this is a matter of perspective and nothing more. Those from the north of England are not as convinced by the religious conviction found in the music of a man who, just a decade ago, made Whisky, Weed and Waffle House. Correct spelling for whisky there too, as God intended. Even when personable religious tones are struck upon, it seems Jelly Roll is stuck in a time and place which does not give him the chance to truly accept and confirm his predilections. He is still signing about sailors and those working behind the bar as a thick and simple trap-like beat lies under it. Empty guitar riffs on Unlive and a Yelawolf autobiography filled with crack and powder, are certainly a sudden shift in momentum. 

Not an interesting one though, and on Whitsitt Chapel goes. It certainly feels like attending a meeting held in the backrooms of some off-the-track place of holiness. Everyone nods along as the pains of the past are dragged up in a selection of tracks which are either rodeo ready or begging for forgiveness from the almighty. Neither works. Even with all the interpersonal dynamics and flow of singular stories, there is a generic flavour to all of Whitsitt Chapel. Backing vocalists come and go, and the need for forgiveness following sin is never thrown a unique bone. Gasoline on the soul and driving right toward backstreet baptisms is just the usual run of strange lyrical continuations. Still, The Lost is an example of a much wider problem. 

Difficult it is for outsiders to enter the realm of Bible Belt music when it all comes down to the stereotypes we were told are not true. Mr Roll appears set on featuring the whisky-drinking, hoedown-loving individuals who may or may not exist. They are present for the sake of his strange and dull narratives, the personable exposure to a divine entity making its claim for the soul of Roll but not his writing. Only God can guide that to a better place. Unenjoyable acoustics littered in Behind Bars see Jelly Roll try and form a narrative from his experiences but it never comes clear or convincing. Nor does much of this album. Ride to the greener pastures, away from Whitsitt Chapel. Filtered Mumford and Sons for those who need to feel even worse off than the inmates laden with weed and stereotypes behind the tequila-sloshed bars Roll sings of.  

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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