Partners in Music and Life
“Art is about more than entertainment. It’s about the individual expression of truth.” These are Cory Chisel’s words on the homepage for The Refuge, an artists’ sanctuary he and Adriel Denae founded in 2016 with the intention of supporting emerging musicians. The Refuge is a renovated monastery, built by monks in the 1930s on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. Disillusioned by their experiences with major record labels, Chisel and Denae found an answer in breaking away and creating their own studio, which subsequently became the setting for their latest album. The duo, who have a son together, have been teaming up for over a decade under the name Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, but Tell Me True marks their first solo venture. Haunting as it is delicate, Tell Me True is a stripped-down ode to resilience, flawed love, and personal discovery.
Chisel and Denae’s thoughtful harmonies steal the show almost immediately. The instrumental arrangements remain minimal, typically no more than a reserved, barely-there acoustic guitar riff —“Rhodes Interlude” and “Deeper Love” being notable exceptions with a dose of mournful violin. While some country duet albums tend to become over saturated with saccharine, idealized imagery, the seasoned songwriters swap out rose-tinted glasses for an honest approach to their life together.
“Spend It All” playfully takes inventory of their shared possessions. “Four bowls for feeding ourselves, no cupboard doors on the kitchen shelves,” the duo sings, pitting Chisel’s low, dusky croon against Denae’s lighter-than-air warble. Opening track, “Songbird”, features the line, “If we forget the melody, we’ll write another tune,”— a sweet, concise vow of love’s perseverance. “Lose Our Way” and “Just Pleasing You” are reflective tracks about learning from the past. In the latter, the narrator cleans up his act and finds redemption and purpose in making someone besides himself happy while “Lose Our Way” is a plea for forgiveness set to the sweet whine of a pedal steel.
Throwing off the shackles of a major record label, Chisel and Denae have given themselves and other artists the opportunity to hone their craft apart from industry expectations. The result is an album that rings with unfettered truth and the confidence of two musicians coming into their own together. Tell Me True, makes for a satisfying debut, with just the right balance of grit and softness — hold the sugar-coating.