Jelly Roll, the stage name of singer-songwriter Jason DeFord, is a native of Nashville’s Antioch community and a formidable rapper in his own right. He named his Whitsitt Chapel album after the Baptist church he attended as a teenager in Antioch.
Whitsitt Chapel is filled with authentic songs, describing DeFord’s personal demons, downfalls, imprisonment, recovery and redemption. Because of the life he lived, his songs are so personal that they speak to everyone.
Let’s take a look at the tracks:
“Halfway to Hell”- Just a shrewd and subtle rockin’ country song. It has some shout-outs to other tunes, such as “Mama Tried” and “This Little Light of Mine,” while showcasing the angst that accompanies a reflective look at one’s worthiness. “My angels and demons at war with myself, One foot in the fire and I still can’t tell, Am I halfway to heaven, Halfway to heaven or hell?”
“Church”- Of a similar vein to Marin Morris’ “My Church”, but with a darker edge. Jelly Roll bears witness from the front seat of his Chevrolet, while soul-searching on a two lane road.
“The Lost”- Co-written with Miranda Lambert, this song takes the term “friends in low places” to another level. DeFord’s kind of people are the broken sinners who need his redemptive cautionary tales the most. I could listen to this all day. This track has one of the best choruses on the whole album, “This that backroad baptism, weed smoking’, syrup sippin’, whiskey river, carry me home.”
“Behind Bars”- Co-written with Brantley Gilbert and featuring Gilbert and Struggle Jennings, this one is destined to be a karaoke sing-along with the catchy chorus, rooted with the line, “Most my friends are behind bars.” Even though DeFord spent time in prison, I believe this skillfully written lyric is referring to the bottles of liquor kept behind the bar.
“Nail Me”- A tale rooted in biblical accounts; the Pharisees of old thinking they were better than the redeemed sinners. DeFord uses this idea to show that no matter how you come to know God, we are all the same in the end.
“Hold on Me”- The first of the love songs on “Whitsitt Chapel”, this song shows his depth and vocal range. You know it’s a country song as soon as he sings, “You’ve got curves just like this bottle.”
“Kill a Man”- How ironic is it that a love song to his wife, Bunnie, is called “Kill a Man”? Beautifully touching, sincere, and sung with an ache that is all too real. “I was bullet-proof, but baby, lovin’ you could kill a man.”
“Unlive”- Co-written with Ashley McBride and featuring Yelawolf, this one tells the tale of Jelly Roll’s life as a teen. It focuses on addiction, poverty and his mother’s mental health issues- “You can’t unlive where you’re from.”
“Save Me” (with Lainey Wilson)- If you can put in your air pods and listen to this without shedding a tear, then you are one cold individual. It rips out my heart every time I hear it. When he sings, “I’m so damaged beyond repair,” it resonates with me personally, as I’m sure it does with all his fans.
“She”- Another tale of addiction, depression, and the effect it has on those around us. This time it’s a woman, possibly his mother, who’s locked herself away upstairs and, “She’s afraid of coming down.”
“Need a Favor”- If you ever get a chance to see this performed live, or even on YouTube when he’s got a full choir behind him, do it! That’s all you need to know!
“Dancing with the Devil”- Caught in the seemingly never-ending spiral of addiction, this song is at is core, a cry for help. Hard to hear, but even harder not to listen because it doesn’t end with recovery. It painfully shows the tragic fall and the plea to not be abandoned.
“Hungover in a Church Pew”- I think it’s no coincidence that Jelly Roll has this song listed right after “Dancing with the Devil.” This is the promising end to the previous track. We all have the chance to start over and we all deserve that chance no matter who we are.
I’ve listened to countless albums that rest heavily on a hit single and then use disappointing filler for the rest of the record. This is definitely not that type of album. This album is one of those rare, original masterpieces where the songwriting is so superb that EVERY track on the album speaks to you in such a way that you want to listen to it over and over. I’m referring to the likes of Def Leppards’ “Hysteria”, Michael Jackson’s “Bad”, Shania Twain’s “Come on Over”, Drake’s “Take Care”, AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors.” I’m sure you have your own personal favorites. The point is, that all these albums were written by song writers who were trailblazers and not afraid to load an album with music you can listen to from start to finish. You can revisit them at any point in your life and they still speak to you. That’s what Jelly Roll has created here. Enjoy!