Album Review – Chapel Hart’s “The Girls Are Back in Town”

The discrimination in today’s country music is pervasive and real. It’s hard enough to make it as a musician as it is, since so many endeavor and dream to, yet so few spots exist in the world. Then imagine having to try and endure when everyone looks at you as being different, couches you as an outsider, closes doors in your face, and say that you don’t belong. Yes, we’re talking about the dogged discrimination that persists systemically throughout the country music industry when you don’t fit in because you have the audacity, the gall to actually play actual country music.

This is what the Chapel Hart trio has been enduring against for years now, while still finding success. Sisters Danica and Devynn Hart, and their cousin Trea Swindle started singing together as little girls while growing up in Poplarville, Mississippi, population 2,800. Though soulful influences crept into their repertoire, and their Gospel roots always remained there just beneath the surface, more often than not, when the voices of these three women conjoined in song and they started composing their own material, country music is what came out, and of the true and traditional kind.

The trio eventually moved to the big city of New Orleans, and now after coming up playing on Royal Street in the French Corner and cutting their teeth wherever else they could, it’s now time for them to seize their moment with their second album The Girls Are Back in Town—an impassioned and sonically diverse work that’s unabashedly country, while also including a little rock attitude and even some contemporary cuts to appeal to a wide cross section of the country genre.

It all begins with the voices of Chapel Hart. When they’re at their best, any song could be stripped back to an a capella arrangement and still shine. But it’s the diverse expressions they explore within the country genre that makes this record entertaining, with unexpected turns and lots of ground covered, all with a keen adeptness and imbued with blood harmonies.

You have numerous straightforward traditional country songs, like the opener “Nearly Over You,” “Just Say I Love You” written by Brady Seals of Little Texas, and “Angel.” But if you had an entire record of this slow and twangy stuff, it may be a little too sleepy for the stratosphere these ladies are aiming for. So they also find a little attitude in songs like “Grown Ass Woman” and “The Girls Are Back in Town,” where the troika evoke influences of artists like Terri Clark, Gretchen Wilson, and Miranda Lambert, even dropping hard cuss words, eschewing any notion they’re just coy little Gospel sweethearts.

They even take today’s mainstream country to task in the song “Tailgate Trophy,” turning Bro-Country tropes upside down, and directly mocking the awful Florida Georgia Line / Luke Bryan song “This is How We Roll,” along with most of the mainstream’s Bro set when they sing, “I won’t slide my sugar shaker, shake my money maker ’cause you hear it in a song on the radio // ‘Bout some guy with a guitar that they turned into a star, and now you found out that he couldn’t even sing a note.”

If you did your best to enjoy Maddie & Tae, but always wanted them to be a bit more country, a little less pop, and to lean even more into their attitude, Chapel Hart very well may be right for you. And the good thing about The Girls Are Back in Town is it has enough variety of songs to appeal to a wide audience of both mainstream and independent listeners. While refusing to give into drum machines or other modern country antics, they’re still fun, and fresh.

This album may veer a little too far from the script at times though. Produced by Jeff Glixman—who is known as the long-time producer of the rock band Kansas, and also worked with late-era Black Sabbath and other rock/metal bands—sometimes the guitars on this album get a little too screamy for the situation, despite the album otherwise including a good amount of fiddle, banjo, and steel guitar. “That’s a Redneck Summer Night” sounds like a Chase Rice song, not Chapel Hart. But you can tell the band is probing here, trying to find their sweet spot, and where they may resonate most with an audience.

And no, their audience isn’t the NPR-listening Americana crowd who loves to flatter themselves by the “diversity” found in their playlists. Earlier in August, Chapel Hart played a week straight in Sturgis. They are unabashed country girls with that “sinning on Saturday, praying on Sunday” approach to life, indicative of their song “Jesus & Alcohol.”

You can cry all you want about what the whole “woke” thing has done to American culture. But the truth is country music does have a ways to go in being a completely open place for black and brown performers, and women especially. But if you want to support black women in country, then they have to be black and they have to be women, but they have to be country too.

Chapel Hart is a lot more country and a lot better than many of today’s mainstream “country” acts, and we don’t have to patronize or flatter them simply due to the color of their skin. They have earned their applause, and a rightful place in the country genre, and much more than most of the generic whites dudes from the ‘burbs that make up most of radio country today.

1 3/4 Guns Up

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