Jelly Roll: ‘Whitsitt Chapel’ – Debut Album Review

Jelly Roll releases his debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel, out now, June 2nd on all streaming platforms. Listen to the brand-new project here.

There are some artists who spark the country scene as an ember, burning slowly and steadily until they finally reach stardom. Jelly Roll is not one of them.

Instead, the Nashville native is an immediate wildfire, burning up the charts and leaving nothing in his wake. The singer-songwriter spent 25 unprecedented, consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Emerging Artist Chart, breaking the record for the most weeks spent at #1, and his debut country album exemplifies why.

With a background in hip-hop and rap, a transition to country may not have seemed the most logical step, until you hear his voice. With a talent that effortlessly transitions between poignant ballads and arena-ready rock anthems, Jelly Roll is the kind of artist who would have the coaches on The Voice shocked upon turning their chairs. Yet, without question, the BMG/Stoney Creek Records is a vocalist who would undoubtedly find a home in any genre. This is evident through Whitsitt Chapel, which finds the former convict dabbling in everything from pure country to anthemic rock to beat-laden hip-hop and rap.

Today, June 2, the musical enigma released his debut country LP, featuring thirteen new co-written tracks. Other contributors to the album include Miranda Lambert, Hardy, Brantley Gilbert, and Ashley McBryde, while he also trades verses with Gilbert, Struggle Jennings, Yelawolf, and Lainey Wilson.

Throughout Whitsitt Chapel, named after the church Jelly grew up attending, there’s often a battle between faith and felony, Jelly musically struggling with both his past and his present, his angels and his demons. Yet, the singer-songwriter isn’t hiding who he is. “This album is about growth and gratitude happening in my life. I wanted to create a project that felt hopeful,” He says in a statement. “I believe the worst feeling a person can have is feeling hopeless or worthless. This is therapeutic music. Real music for real people with real problems.”

While much of the album is autobiographical, it’s also very much a concept album, dealing with the battles of a man torn between heaven and hell, addiction and sobriety, falling and faith. These themes weave their way through almost all of the songs on Whitsitt Chapel, with Jelly Roll offering both lyrical and vocal brilliance through his delivery.

Opening with “Halfway to Hell,” Jelly Roll immediately sets the stage for what’s to come in the form of a blazing uptempo which finds him a walking contradiction, struggling with where he stands. Over roaring guitars, he proclaims, “I don’t know if I’m halfway to heaven or halfway to hell // 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?”

Likewise, “The Lost,” “Church,” “Dancing with the Devil,” and “Nail Me” explore similar themes. The Lambert co-penned “The Lost” is a rock laden ode to being a misfit, the country star proclaiming “I’m better with the lost than the found,” musing “You’d be surprised at the places I find Jesus.” Alternatively, both “Church” and “Nail Me” find the Tennessee native leaning more into his country roots, as “Church” finds him finding God in a truck, while “Nail” shines a light on hypocrisy among those who proclaim their Christianity, but turn their back on him. “Nail me to the cross outside of your ivory tower // Where you sit so high on that horse you rode // As I sit here alone, So hit me with the stones you cast, your shadow looks back while you stare through glass,” He sings. “You don’t think I know I’m the jester before your throne.”

Jelly’s background in hip hop weaves its way through songs like “Behind Bars” and “Unlive,” two of the more unique tracks on the LP. While “Behind Bars” has him trading verses with Gilbert and Jennings, lamenting that “most my friends are behind bars,” “Unlive” finds him accompanied by rapper Yelawolf as they admit “you can’t unlive where you’re from.”

One of the album’s most poignant moments comes in the form of “She,” a song penned to shine a light on addiction. “‘She’ is about the struggle of addiction. ‘She’ is talking about the elephant in the room and addressing head on the heroin and fentanyl epidemic that is sweeping the nation; the pharmaceutical pill problem that is sweeping the nation, and has been for a long time,” Jelly revealed in a statement. “And I feel like it’s the artist’s responsibility to speak for those who sometimes can’t always speak for themselves.”

Other songs that touch on relationships threatened by addiction include “Kill a Man” and “Hold On Me,” where he can’t escape the holds of addiction that prevent him from love (“I know you’re all I need, but I just can’t break free”). “Kill A Man” is punctuated with angsty female background vocals, Jelly admitting that “I was bulletproof, but baby loving you could kill a man.”

On “Save Me,” Jelly Roll joins vocal forces with Lainey Wilson, creating a power ballad for the broken. “All of this drinkin’ and smokin’ is hopeless// But feel like it’s all that I need // Somethin’ inside of me’s broken,” They sing. “I hold on to anything that sets me free // I’m a lost cause // Baby, don’t waste your time on me // I’m so damaged beyond repair // Life has shattered my hopes and my dreams.”

“Need a Favor” finds Jelly Roll admitting that, like many people, he only looks to God when he needs something, while the album’s final track, “Hungover in a Church Pew” is a sparse country tune that finds him sweating off the night before in the chapel. “This ain’t the first, won’t be the last time// I’m hungover in a church pew, Girl I hurt you but I hurt me too,” He sings. “I’m coming down on a Sunday morning // Hands shakin’ my forehead pouring // Lord knows all the hell you put me through // I bet the devil never thought this is what I’d do // I’m hungover in a church pew.”

There’s a reason why Jelly Roll has become an almost immediate country superstar, and this is on full display on Whitsitt Chapel. Here, he manages to take listeners back to his hometown church, lyrically dancing with the devil and battling his demons in the shadow of his faith. The resulting LP is a raw and autobiographical look at a man who falls and gets back up again, not afraid to discuss both his failures and his faith.

Country Swag Picks:

  1. Halfway to Hell
  2. Nail Me
  3. Church
  4. Save Me

Whitsitt Chapel Tracklist:

  1. Halfway to Hell (Jason DeFord, Jesse Frasure, Matt Jenkins, Jessie Jo Dillon*)
  2. Church (Jason DeFord, Michael Hardy, David Garcia**)
  3. The Lost (Jason DeFord, Jesse Frasure, Miranda Lambert*)
  4. Behind Bars (with Brantley Gilbert and Struggle Jennings) (Jason DeFord, Brantley Gilbert, Michael Whitworth, Andrew Baylis, Brock Berryhill, Austin Nivarel***)
  5. Nail Me (Jason DeFord, Kevin Gruft, Austin Nivarel^)
  6. Hold on Me (Jason DeFord, Hillary Lindsey, Alysa Vanderheym, Michael Whitworth^)
  7. Kill a Man (Jason DeFord, Riley Thomas, Andrew Baylis, Michael Whitworth^)
  8. Unlive (with Yelawolf) (Jason DeFord, Ashley McBryde, Andrew Baylis, Zach Crowell, Michael Wayne Atha^)
  9. Save Me (with Lainey Wilson) (Jason DeFord, David Ray Stevens^^)
  10. She (Jason DeFord, Austin Nivarel, Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft^^^)
  11. Need a Favor (Jason DeFord, Austin Nivarel, Joe Ragosta, Rob Ragosta*^)
  12. Dancing With the Devil (Jason DeFord, Hunter Phelps, Zach Crowell^)
  13. Hungover in a Church Pew (Jason DeFord, Hunter Phelps, Zach Crowell^)

Jelly Roll’s debut country album, ‘Whitsitt Chapel’ is out now on all streaming platforms.

Fans can join our Weekly Round-Up e-newsletter here, for the latest in country music and more news about future Jelly Roll releases.

Jelly Roll will be headlining his 44- date Backroad Baptism tour, with tour dates listed on his official website here.

To keep up with Jelly Roll, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Whitsitt Chapel is available everywhere you buy or stream music. Take a listen below and check out more new recently released music on our ‘New Country Music’ playlist. Be sure to give the playlist a follow for your weekly new country music fix.