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Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012

Cory Chisel’s Americana, On His Own Terms

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One might have thought Cory Chisel would have been disappointed when it became obvious that his major label deal with the RCA-affiliated Black Seal Music was coming apart. Black Seal was shuttered by RCA shortly after the release of Chisel’s 2009 debut for the label, Death Won’t Send a Letter, and although RCA picked up promotion and marketing of the album, it became apparent to Chisel that it wasn’t the right situation for him. He eventually parted ways with the label.

But Chisel says he doesn’t view the RCA episode as a setback because he never saw being on a major label as a long-term proposition in the first place.

“It was really a part of our plan to begin with to sort of shoot for the majors for the initial setup of name recognition and cash and the ability to sort of understand what it was like to be an artist at that level of professionalism,” Chisel explains. “I always had in my mind that the first chance of being able to completely be my own master, we were going to shake the collar.”

Consequently, Old Believers, the latest album from Chisel and his band, the Wandering Sons, is out now on his own label, Readymade Records.

Going the independent route again wasn’t daunting for Chisel, who has had his share of experience in the music business. The Appleton, Wis., native and recent Nashville transplant began releasing albums in 1999 under his first band, Breathing Machine. That group evolved into Chisel and the Wandering Sons in 2004, and went on to release three albums before signing with RCA/Black Seal.

But even though Chisel’s stay on RCA was brief, it doesn’t mean it was a bad experience. Quite the opposite: Not only did Death Won’t Send a Letter considerably raise Chisel’s profile on a national level, he also made contacts and friendships with RCA personnel that have continued since he left the label and will be valuable as Chisel moves forward.

When it came to making music, Chisel says, the label pretty much allowed him to make the album he wanted to create. Still, he says, going completely independent for Old Believers allowed him to make a record that might have met with some resistance at RCA.

“There’s no doubt that inside the major label system, they’re looking for marketing channels, how to release your record, which in my mind screams, ‘They’re looking for ways to be obvious about what you are and who to market to,’” Chisel says. “And I have no interest in that whatsoever.”

The recent commercial resurgence of Americana music, in particular, might have caused some headaches. “And as an artist, as soon as something starts to be overly trendy, you sort of raise your sail and drive out of there,” he says. “I think that would have been more complicated.”

But since Chisel was calling the shots on Old Believers, he was able to bring in his best friend, Brendan Benson (of The Raconteurs and a solo artist in his own right) to produce the record. He also was able to throw a few curveballs into the mix. As a whole, while it still falls under that general rootsy music umbrella known as Americana, the album is more diverse musically than a major label would probably have preferred.

There are easygoing rockers like the soulful “I’ve Been Accused” and the horn-inflected “Times Won’t Change,” a tune that seamlessly mixes rock, soul and country. The ballads include “Laura,” a piano-centered tune that could appeal to the John Mayer crowd, “Foxgloves,” a heavier song with an appealingly dark personality, and the lovely “Old Love,” which leans more toward folk and soul.

Chisel and his latest edition of the Wandering Sons—aside from veteran band mate Adriel Denae, Chisel considers the group more of a cast of backing musicians that can change as needed than a proper backing band—are playing some of the new songs on a series of high-profile dates opening for Norah Jones, who has been a longtime fan of Chisel’s music.

“We waited a long time for someone like her to sort of pull us alongside,” Chisel says of the tour with Jones. “We spent 10 years traveling every back road and tavern across the country, and a lot of time in the Midwest, playing to thousands of people 10 at a time. We’re extremely excited for the opportunity to play these historic venues.

“It’s a big leap into new territory for me,” he adds. “It’s exciting to still be finding new places to sing.”

Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons open for Norah Jones Monday, Oct. 8, at the Riverside Theater. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.