I’m a firm believer that great music will find you if you’re willing to listen. In the case of Cole Chaney, I heard his name long before I ever heard a song. The music community that I’m incredibly blessed to be a part of was shouting his name from seemingly every rooftop. Several folks went out of their way to make sure Chaney was on my radar.
Folks like Kevin Robinette are the voices that fuel this incredible scene, and I’m incredibly thankful for those voices. Especially since the real job keeps me from attending all the shows that I’d like. Without folks like Kevin, this website would struggle to shine the spotlight that we’re able to train on artists like Cole Chaney.
Let’s start with a little introduction to Cole and why his voice is important. Chaney claims Boyd County as his hometown, but he now calls Lexington home. The 20-year old possesses wisdom beyond his age and the ability to write stories that intertwine perfectly with his music. Cole Chaney knows exactly who is as an artist and as soon as you hear his voice, his phrasing, his stories, you will too.
*Photo courtesy of Madylin Goins
Chaney releases ‘Mercy’ on May 15, 2021. That’s the date that will mark the “start” of a career for an artist that has no ceiling. He will go wherever his determination leads him and his songs will be the fuel for the rocket he’ll be riding.
‘Mercy’ is a collection of songs that are steeped in Bluegrass, with the legs of a thoroughbred underneath them. They’re strong, determined, traditional, and poignant, but most importantly, they’re Appalachian. His stories and vernacular are a wonderful representation of the folks that in live our great Commonwealth. Blue collar to the bone and timeless.
Let me preface this section by saying that I’m not the only one who finds Mr. Chaney talented. The list of musicians who were a part of the studio recordings is a virtual who’s who of our scene here and it happens to also include a Grammy winner. The Grammy belongs to the one and only Michael Cleveland on the fiddle as he was also pulling some double duty in the recording process.
You then have members of the recently formed bluegrass supergroup, Wolfpen Branch. Chris Shouse handled mandolin duties, while Roddy Puckett added the low end on his stand up bass. Arthur Hancock and Aaron Bibelhauser added some backing vocals.
Arthur also contributed as a co-writer on “Humble Enough To Hear.” While Aaron was also heavily involved in the recording process with Chris Shouse and Michael Cleveland at Bluelava Audio.
Steven Schumann also added some bass and cello, while Carl Eldridge contributed the acoustic lead guitar, with Josh Hensley on the banjo. With Sean Sullivan and Carl Saff handling the mixing and mastering respectively.
From here, I’ll share my view on several songs from ‘Mercy’, but then it’s up to you to dive deeper if you like what you read and hear. *Spoiler Alert* You’re gonna dig deeper.
We’ll start with the first single, “Ill Will Creek.” A fictitious tale that tells the tale of a Devil loose in the Appalachian Mountains. If you’re caught, the only way out is to sell your soul. Heavy stuff for sure, but an absolute perfect introduction to who Cole Chaney is as an artist. If the tale and the hook don’t grab ya, that fiddle will. What a daggum barnburner!!
Next up is “Coalshooter.” I was immediately hooked when I saw Cole perform this one on Red Barn Radio, which I’ll link below. The recorded version of “Coalshooter” is a tad bit slower than the performance, which lends a bit of the haunting effect of the Darrell Scott penned “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.”
That eery haunting feeling was, and likely still is, an unfortunate way of life in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. And while the methods of blasting coal have changed, “Coalshooter” paints the grim situation that many families faced in the early days of mining. Young men lying about their age to gain employment to simply help their families survive. I lost my Father-in-law in 2020, and his story was very similar, so this one is a favorite on a very personal level.
Just enjoy “Silver Run” below, words just aren’t sufficient.
Next up, let’s talk about “Another Day In The Life.” Easily one of the most memorable hooks on the record and one with some wonderful backing vocals. With lines like “Well I wet a line today, didn’t catch a damn thing, but you know a good day fishin’ beats the hell outta workin’, yeah I wet a line today,” this one will be a favorite on the many lakes and creeks Kentucky possesses, and rightfully so. Lake hair don’t care, so crack open a cold one and enjoy the trip!
“Humble Enough To Hear” is one of my favorite tracks from ‘Mercy.’ The song will have different meanings for everyone, but as someone who has battled depression my entire life, this one takes me back to places in time that I’ve mostly healed from. A wonderful reminder that God is great and if you’re “Humble Enough To Hear,” He will lead you through the darkness. That, for me at least, is definitely a reminder that I need often. Hopefully this one reaches anyone who needs to hear it and it allows the mind to realize that we’re never truly alone.
It has been said that you measure a man by how much he loves. On “The Air Between Us”, Cole Chaney bears his soul and sings to his love. There’s a definite detectable difference in his vocal delivery. It’s delivered from his heart and the vulnerability in his voice speaks volumes. It’s a wonderful testament of who Cole is, and it’s one of those songs that connects with others because it’s so genuine. You don’t get a glimpse into someone’s heart often, so cherish this one.
“Wishing Well” is incredible. It is the home to the best lyrics on the entire album, in my humble opinion. It’s a stark and often dark look at our society and its’ inequities. The wisdom within Chaney’s lyrics is on full display here and that wisdom is way beyond his age of 20. Put your mind in the lyrical realm of Sturgill Simpson’s “Call To Arms” and allow me to share a sample with you.
Too much power in our hands Everything we do, we do for trend And the wicked ways that’ll bring us to our end We sweep under the rug To just come right back up again
Hysteria is common place The whole world is just one click away Everybody speaks before they think The media feeds on judgement day
We let our kind rot in the streets Even Uncle Sam won’t guarantee That if you fight you’ll have a place to sleep Don’t sound utopian to me
The last song that I want to highlight is “The Flood.” Why? Glad you asked! See, empathy is seemingly a dying trait in our way of life, but Chaney shows a great ability to not only tell a heartbreaking story, but to put himself in their shoes and convey his perception of how folks would feel. How they may react. Why they question their troubles. Why things are even worth the effort. “The Flood” isn’t about a hook or a melody. It’s about being human and it’s the grit and the soul of what elevates a good songwriter to become a great songwriter.
As for the title track “Mercy,” I’ll let Cole tell ya all you need to know.
Listen, Cole Chaney is a special young man folks. You better hitch yourself to his wagon and see as many shows around these parts while ya can. This is the first major step towards a long and well-deserved career in music. And I for one, can’t wait to watch Cole’s journey unfold.