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Just as Patti Smith used the New York punk scene to channel defiance and individuality, Rose uses her Appalachian roots to delve deeply into her identity

Chelle Rose is moving home.

She is packing up boxes in Nashville, where she moved 20 years ago. There she married, had two children, and quit an accounting job as she evolved into an acclaimed singer-songwriter whose songs are steeped in her Appalachian heritage of east Tennessee.

Now she is returning to Lenoir City, Tennessee, on the very land where she was raised by her maternal grandparents. By accident or luck, the occasion coincides with the release of Blue Ridge Blood, her third album. Like Ghost of Browder Holler, her 2012 album that earned her accolades and comparisons to Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, Blue Ridge Blood takes an unflinching look at the people and places of that rich mountain region with a pretty heavy dose of pride.

I hate to admit Im proud to be where Im from, where a lot of people grow up and try to hide their accent and try to be somebody else, she says. I get that. Then I realized there was magic in just being exactly as you are.

Rose became who she was after divorcing her first husband in 2008 and becoming a single mom. Her first album had come and gone years earlier but it had caused strife in her marriage, then paranoia. She was an accountant who became something different: a songwriter and guitarist whose music connected strongly with people both at home and in faraway countries. The change left her alone with her children. I needed music, she says.

The new chapter gave her the confidence to release Ghosts, produced by Texas songwriting hero Ray Wylie Hubbard. Blue Ridge Blood, released next week, continues to forge a genre that is uniquely her own: story songs that are unflinching in their grainiest detail and music that snarls and stomps. Just as Patti Smith used the late New York punk scene to channel defiance and individuality, Rose covers the territory of her rural childhood to delve deeply into her identity. Her songs are universal in what they say but fiercely regional down to her husky vocals, which often sound as dangerous as they do weary.

There are conversations with spirits, lovers, family members who go wrong. With the eerie guitar and stamping beat of Reckon With the Devil, Rose describes the futility of watching someone you love go off the rails. I cant pray I cant fight/I cant get down on my knees every night, she sings, sounding no longer worried but incensed.

This is a country rock album that never lets either side prevail. With its clucking banjo and hollering vocals, Dammit Darling is a modern mountain lament. The opening line Dammit darling/you pine for miss Ohio/dont you know/your loves in Tennessee? is haunting for its desperation. On Hidin Hole, Rose imagines burying herself so deep to escape a poisonous situation. Just let me lie here/Ill let you know when my blood thaws, she sings.

Rose has few peers today, except for Mary Gauthier, Johnny Dowd and Steve Earle, who are willing to explore harrowing themes such as child or spousal abuse in song. Rose says she is a relatively happy person but admits she is drawn to writing about the more disturbing elements of human nature. People think the goal is to be blissful all the time. Maybe. But you need a balance with everything, including lightness and dark, she says. Mean Grandpappy, a song about her grandfather on her fathers side who abused her and two other children in her family, opens with the singer describing his funeral: Not a tear in the eye of any of his kin/Randys gone home to Satans den.

The song was written years ago and shelved because she couldnt face playing it for people. Then producer George Reiff encouraged her to record it for the new album. She did, but only after getting clearance from her family.

Family approval matters. The album is dedicated to her grandmother on her mothers side who raised her since she was three. The last song, Sing Pretty, is a promise to soften things a little: Momma always wanted me sing pretty/hurts her to hear the pain that I pour out, she sings. So this ones for my momma gonna try to do it sweet/A little less vinegar more honey to catch the bee.

Rose used to present the family matriarch with the lyrics of her songs, as unvarnished as they might be. She wasnt really thrilled, Rose remembers. But she recalls the same woman actively painting mountain scenes. From afar, the paintings might have resembled just a natural appreciation of local beauty. But closer up, Rose noticed dark rivers, growing moss, ominous trees. She didnt realize that she was kind of the same way I am on the inside, even though she was this very happy person always on the outside, she says.

Rose brands her music Appalachian rocknroll even though she hails from the mountain region of the US best known for the early string players of country music. The identity is less specific to a sound and more to a certain dignity of being raised in an area that has long been marginalized by outside forces over time. The title song, a harmony duet with Buddy Miller, gets at how things others see as imperfections are the very things to cherish. A lot of people think mountain people are not that smart but everybody I know in my family are completely self-sufficient and could survive on a level that could blow you away, she says.

A line in the song Somebody told me when I was a little girl/Netter change the way I talk never make it in this world comes from a letter her biological mother wrote her from Los Angeles telling Rose that she needed to lose her thick accent. The letter upset her for years. Today they no longer have a relationship. Looking back I thought, No, I dont need to change anything. She was wrong, she says.

Creating Blue Ridge Blood slowed because Rose was stricken with a diseased thyroid that had her housebound for two years. She is healthier today and, with one of her children headed to college, plans to be more active on the road playing shows.

The move back home is part of that personal renewal. She, her daughter and fianc will be away from the congestion of booming Nashville. But she will also be able to show her children where they are from. There are physical reminders the road theyll live on bares the family name and her grandmothers garden is still there, surrounded by railroad ties and also less obvious ones.

Its really back to my roots, she says. As far back as you can get.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/30/chelle-rose-blue-ridge-blood-nashville