Originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin, folk singer-songwriter, Chella Negro, relocated to Colorado 2000. Though spending the majority of the past decade living in Denver has certainly informed her songs with a spirit that can only be lifted from the ubiquitous concrete and glass of the city, the soul of a life spent growing up in a midwestern town remains the heartbeat of the music. The seemingly mutually exclusive elements of country heart and urban savvy fuse seamlessly into a collection of songs that is at once unique and comfortingly familiar. Reflected in her singing simultaneously are the pain of heartbreak, the joy and wonder of life, and the wisdom gained from experiencing both. Chella faithfully carries the torch of singer-songwriter folk music past and current. The addition of Dave Pinto on Pedal Steele, and Melanie Karnopp on Drums, fill out the instrumentation and bring a decidedly Americana sound to the songs.
Dave Pinto - Lead Guitar, Pedal Steele
Melanie Karnopp - Percussion & Drums
Silos & Smokestacks (2009)
Recorded at the Helmet Room, Denver
Recorded at AudioLoom, Denver
Chella Negro & The Charm (TBA)
House In Motion Studio, Denver
Getting Stellar with Chella
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In the low-lit chatter of the Walnut Room, Chella, of Chella Negro, took the stage with her bandma... In the low-lit chatter of the Walnut Room, Chella, of Chella Negro, took the stage with her bandmates after weaving through the packed floor. Guitar slung over one shoulder, she took the mic like an old friend. Her round, earnest face, so much like a cherub’s, turned up toward the spotlight as she soared into higher scales, soul bared beautifully in the frank yellow light. Each band member had such vivid personalities, each was so distinct. Each pulsed alone and contributed to a great whole, a cogent forward motion not unlike a steam train. Impending.
Chella has a rich, full-bodied voice, round and vibrant as the core of the earth, grounding it all to a folksy and almost down-home tone. Blunt drums galloped, to the forefront, leading the music forward. The whole thing came home, of course, with the advent of the pedal steel in Dave’s lap, keenly under his will.
Apparently, the amazing set that I experienced is just one example of what Chella Negro can do. Each of their shows is unique week by week, tailored to complement the bands that they play with or the crowd that will be there that night. I can promise you this much – at Chella Negro, you will never be bored.
Perhaps even more exciting is the impending release of Chella’s next album, recording for the first time with Dave and Kim, though it is the third in her repertoire. She’s working with Randall Frazier, another admirable fixture in the Denver music scene, who owns Helmet Room Recordings.
In the interview afterward, lounging in the green room, each member was eloquent and insightful in their responses, but Chella, of course, shined. Legs elegantly crossed, perched on a high stool, she gave sweeping gestures that punctuated her words and the honest smirk that curled her lip, “Just call me the Old Dirty Bastard of the Denver folk scene.”
And it’s true that the Denver scene has embraced Chella Negro’s warm tones. Each member echoed the sentiment that setting – both urban and rural – has always played a key role in their work. Coming from Wisconsin and having lived in Denver for many years, the subjects of Chella’s lyrics have turned from Wisconsin life and focused more closely on her current city, as demonstrated in her beautiful ode, “Broadway,” depicting a street that has long been central to Denver culture.
The band also marveled at the generally loose-knit folk scene in Denver – though the term “folk” itself is rather fluid, and perhaps that’s why. Dave agreed that the boundaries between genres are blurring, so it’s a very exciting time to be involved in the Denver scene. In the well-lit interlude that followed Chella Negro, I heard a member of the crowd say, “They have such a Denver sound.” Well put, I thought. Denver is indeed such a unique music scene – particularly with bands like Chella Negro taking the stage, one need not always go to the Pepsi Center or to Red Rocks to experience an absolutely incredible show.
Underground Music Showcase Lights Up Broadway
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Further up the block, Chella Negro's booming vocals pierced the Broadway sidewalks as the first act ...Further up the block, Chella Negro's booming vocals pierced the Broadway sidewalks as the first act of the night at The Hornet bar.
Originally from Wisconsin, the folk singer has called Denver home for a decade and performed to a charmed crowd against a low-lit backdrop. Her long green tablecloth dress and sleepy country hymns evoked the likes of Patsy Cline and new country favorite Neko Case.
The pit-pat of the drummer's wire brushes and Chella's liquidy country yearn felt like a Thursday night in a far-off Texas roadhouse.
Read more: Underground Music Showcase lights up Broadway - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/entertainment/ci_15583148#ixzz146JRFxLI
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Tom Murphy- Michelle Caponigro’s backstory reads like something you’d see on Behind the Music. After...Tom Murphy- Michelle Caponigro’s backstory reads like something you’d see on Behind the Music. After moving to Denver a decade ago from La Crosse, Wisconsin, Caponigro joined a jam band called Purple Buddha, but found that artistic context a little stifling to her creativity. Adopting the stage name Chella Negro, Caponigro subsequently focused on her own songwriting — a stripped-down, folky affair with just a guitar and her pointed vocals. There sure is no shortage of acoustic singer-songwriters in the world, but Chella Negro (due at the Larimer Lounge on Sunday, February 21) doesn’t sound like she’s trying so hard to be just like one of her heroes. Her voice has a refreshingly unique quality that possesses both soulful resonance and an edge. Recently recruiting Darren Dunn, formerly of LandlordLand, on drums, Chella is augmenting her beautifully spare melancholia with a little kick.
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On Chella Negro’s debut record, “Silos & Smokestacks”, you’ll learn what it takes to be an honest fo...On Chella Negro’s debut record, “Silos & Smokestacks”, you’ll learn what it takes to be an honest folk artist, singer/songwriter. It seems more and more, the traditions of folk music are lost – whether through advancements in recording technology, desire to be different, or the power of all of our social networking sites – folk music is becoming more and more electronic, a bit less than the acoustic values it was built on. But Chella Negro has opted for the simple on Silos, scrapping an album with full band instrumentation and instead recording with only two powerful instruments – her guitar… and her voice.
Chella talks about the collection: “’Silos & Smokestacks’ is very bare-bones traditional. I wanted it to sound like I was in the listener’s living room or sitting next to them in their favorite booth in their favorite bar… lyrically, it’s a very personal record heavy in Midwestern mythos and longing. All the basics are there: trains, rivers, broken hearts, and hard living.”
Of course, we also questioned Ms. Negro about going with what we consider the true roots of folk sound. Her response? “I was listening to a lot of Hank Williams while making this record and thinking about how the ‘basics’ were missing from much of today’s popular artists. I’m a big fan of lush production and full sounds, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to make an album that focuses solely on the songs themselves. There’s an honesty to the music here that’s hard to find elsewhere.”
If you’re looking for an intimate show – do not hesitate to catch Chella Negro live. You’ll have your chance this fall, when she hits the road. And if you want that full band sound – don’t worry – there will indeed be some nights where she’s backed by four other great artists. There’s so much more to learn below, so get into the XXQ’s.
XXQs: Chella Negro
PensEyeView.com (PEV): Tell us how you first got started out in music? Has playing music always been something you’ve wanted to do?
Chella Negro (CN): Music has been the chief influence on my life from a very early age. I was one of those kids who would sit by the radio armed with a blank cassette waiting for the DJ to play my favorite song, trying to record it without missing a single beat. When I was behaving particularly well, my parents would take me to the local record store and buy me 45s as a reward. I even remember the first time MTV was introduced into my household and the first music video I saw (the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey”). In fact, it’s hard for me to think about my childhood and NOT find music in those memories. I liked the typical bands of the time; New Kids on the Block, Prince, George Michael, and other Top 40 artists. Conversely, the Pixies, Nirvana, the Cure, and Jane’s Addiction were also making appearances in my playlists. I was also getting into hip-hop and having my young Midwestern mind blown by Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest, NWA, Queen Latifah, and LL Cool J. To the outside world, I must have seemed like an oddball but in my
head, there was always this swirling sonic madness pushing me to create and dig deeper into music.
I started seeing concerts around the age of ten with such notable shows as the aforementioned New Kids, Cinderella (with Nelson!), Reba McEntire, and whoever else was rocking the state fair in the summer. We didn’t get many big names to La Crosse and it wasn’t until I was 17 that I could go to concerts without my parents so my options were fairly limited.
PEV: Originally from La Crosse, Wisconsin, folk singer-songwriter, Chella Negro, relocated to Colorado in August of 2000, what kind of music where you listening to growing up? What was the first concert you attended? Who is on your iPod right now?
CN: Currently, I am sans iPod but I do have ITunes and it is chock full of music. Some of my favorites are Ryan Adams, Animal Collective, Elvis Perkins, Bob Dylan, Beyonce, and Neko Case.
PEV: Tell us about your creative process… What kind of environment do you have to be in to make music?
CN: Writing for me has to be really spontaneous. When I sit down and tell myself I have to write something, it very rarely works out. Some of my best lyrics have come from too much time on the barstool, eavesdropping on my fellow drinkers. Other times, it could be a traffic jam or the weather or a certain way someone looks at me that pushes the words out. There’s rhyme but no reason to what I do.
PEV: What can fans expect from a live Chella Negro show?
CN: I’ve played a lot of different rooms in my career and I try to adjust the show based on what’s going on around me. I write set lists before every show and find that, about half way through, I start re-arranging things based on the vibe of the crowd and how I’m feeling at that moment. As with most folksy-type shows, there’s story-telling and joke-making but the meat and potatoes is the music itself which I try to keep the main focus of the evening.
PEV: Tell us about your first live performance. How have you changed since that first show to where you are now?
CN: Before heading down the acoustic path, I was in a psychedelic jam band for the majority of my time in Denver. The first time I played a solo show, it was terrifying. I had grown so used to having four other people behind me that being alone on the stage just felt awkward. I swear, I have never felt so small in my life! Going from having such a big sound behind me to putting on an acoustic and hearing the spaces between the notes really challenged my mind. Thankfully, the audience was full of friends and family and the show went off without a hitch.
PEV: What can fans expect from your debut album, "Silos & Smokestacks"?
CN: “Silos” is very bare-bones traditional. I wanted it to sound like I was in the listener’s living room or sitting next to them in their favorite booth in their favorite bar and I think my producer (Brian Gerhard) and I really achieved that. Lyrically, it’s a very personal record heavy in Midwestern mythos and longing. All the basics are there: trains, rivers, broken hearts, and hard living.
PEV: How is "Silos & Smokestacks" different from other albums out today?
CN: What makes “Silos” different from other folk/Americana records out today is the simplicity of the sound. I was listening to a lot of Hank Williams while making this record and thinking about how the “basics” were missing from much of today’s popular artists. I’m a big fan of lush production and full sounds, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to make an album that focuses solely on the songs themselves. There’s an honesty to the music here that’s hard to find elsewhere.
PEV: Where do you feel you will be ten years from now?
CN: Polishing my Grammys in my beachside home in Santa Cruz, of course! Seriously, it’s hard to imagine myself doing anything but making music and playing shows. Hopefully, in ten years, it’ll just be on a larger scale than it is now.
PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about you?
CN: I’m a complete nerd. Most nights, I’d rather be home with my dog and my record collection rather than at a bar mixing it up. I’m also really into zombie movies and Star Wars.
PEV: Was there a certain point in your life when you knew that music was going to be a career for you?
CN: I honestly don’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to be a performer. I started singing in my youth and never looked back. There’s a fullness that comes over me when I play, a contentment, that nothing else has ever provided me. It’s silly to think about doing anything else!
PEV: What one word best describes Chella Negro?
PEV: As a musician, you live a lot of your life on the road. How is life on the road for you? Best and worst parts? Any fun stories?
CN: I have yet to tour as a solo musician but I’m planning a little run to the Southwest in the fall. I have toured with a few of the bands I’ve been in, though, and that’s always been a good time. Every day is an adventure! The spontaneity and evitable calamity it brings really gets me going. I think the best time I’ve had on the road was with my Bob Dylan tribute band, Dylan66. We did a run of Colorado a few summers ago, playing all sorts of places from big-time theaters to one room saloons and it was a blast. Unfortunately, the best stories from that tour aren’t suitable for the public…
PEV: Do you find yourself often going back to one theme in your songwriting over another?
CN: Loneliness is a major theme in my writing. It’s not necessarily something I’m conscious of during the writing process and it isn’t always overt but it’s there lurking in the background the way loneliness often does.
PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted to your success? What’s it like when you get to play at your hometown?
CN: Everyone is incredibly supportive. I’m very blessed to have parents that encouraged and accepted my creative leanings and have never tried to force conventions on me. It sounds cheesy but they are truly my biggest fans! Playing in La Crosse is just awesome. It’s cool to give back to the community that made me and influences my music so heavily. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today if it weren’t for the experiences La Crosse afforded me. My friends are a wickedly creative group of people and major inspirations to me. Many of them are musicians or artists who not only support me by coming out to my shows but also by helping me with promotion, artwork, playing shows together, and the occasional crash pad. I’m forever surprised by just how unique and talented by friends are and am thankful every day.
PEV: What can we find you doing in your spare time, aside from playing/writing music?
CN: What’s this “spare time” you speak of? Just kidding. I go out to see live music a few nights a week or to test out new material at one of Denver’s many open stages. Other than that, I’m a serious homebody.
PEV: Having played with many great acts in music is there one artist or group that would be your dream collaboration? Why?
CN: Ah, well, Ryan Adams, for sure. This guy is a twister of creativity. There aren’t many artists who have such a vast, varied catalog and there are even fewer whose catalogs contain so many gems. His songs and approach to making music trip me out on a daily basis. Say what you want about the guy, he’s a hell of a song-writer and that’s what matters to me. When I decided to go solo, I looked to his music for a basic outline of what I wanted to accomplish, where I could take my songs. His voice encouraged me to find my own. Being able to collaborate with someone of Ryan Adams’ caliber could only strengthen me as a musician and would, indeed, be the raddest thing ever.
PEV: Is there an up and coming band or artist you think we should all be looking out for now?
CN: I go through phases with the music I listen to and right now, I’m in full-on summer jam mode. This means a lot of traditional ska, Animal Collective, funk, and fuzzy, dreamy pop. Some new favorites in the latter category are Elvis Perkins, Bears, Phoenix, and the Dodos. Keep an eye out for these guys. They are the musical equivalent to cupcakes.
PEV: If you weren’t playing music, what would you most likely be doing for a career?
CN: Jeez, who knows? I’d like to think I’d be some kind of A&R person but, given the current state of the music industry, that job’s gone the way of the cassette tape. Maybe a showgirl in Vegas or somebody’s mother. Or a storm chaser.
PEV: Tell us what an average day is like for you?
CN: I get up, go to work at the independent record store I run, sell other people’s dreams and ambitions to the masses for eight hours and then head home where I work on music for a few hours. After that, I usually go out to a show and wile away my evening with Stella Artois and good company.
PEV: So, what is next for Chella Negro?
CN: I’ve got a lot on my plate in the upcoming months. I’m planning the fall tour, playing some really cool shows, and doing promotional work for the record. It’s my goal to get “Silos” into as many ears as possible by the end of the year. I’m also looking into assembling a small band and pressing a 7-inch. This is a busy time for me but, really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There & Back Again
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It was a strange arrangement of coincidence: going to Denver last fall to hang out with a band from ...It was a strange arrangement of coincidence: going to Denver last fall to hang out with a band from Ireland, and being introduced to a musician who comes from my hometown. Though Chella Negro has been out of La Crosse for a decade, she still speaks in a dusky Midwestern accent, replete with enthusiasm and easily tripped into laughter. That voice, and its ability to drop into realms of pathos, betrayal, and longing, is what has remained constant in the formative years of Chella Negro, taking the act from solo girl-on-guitar through its increasing instrumentation and to whatever lies ahead.
Owing to the same kinds of prejudice that fuel vacant statements such as “I like all music but hip-hop and country,” Chella Negro is somewhat reluctant to describe herself as a country musician. “I’ll never ever come straight out and say that anymore, because any time I have people say ‘Oh, like Carrie Underwood or Reba McIntyre or Taylor Swift?’ No! Old country! It’s like being in a punk band and having people ask if you sound like Thursday. Thankfully, Americana and Alt-Country got introduced, so you can call yourself that and people are more receptive. Folk’s easy to say, too.”
The civilian whose driver’s license reads Michelle Caponigro describes her La Crosse youth as a creative one. Growing up surrounded by R&B and soul music, she spent a lot of time performing, both musically and in local theater. This including stints in local bands as well as in UW-L’s Summer Stage and an offshoot of the La Crosse Community Theater known as the Pegasus Players. One of her most notable roles was in a commercial for the local Fox station, where she portrayed Pulp Fiction-style Uma Thurman.
While a sophomore in college at Winona, studying voice performance and dramatic arts, Chella Negro’s best friend decided to move to Colorado, and eventually convinced her to follow. Leaving school wasn’t much of an issue. “It was like, why am I paying these people money? All they wanted me to do was sing opera music. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted to do, and they didn’t concentrate on writing or anything like that. I thought, I don’t have to do this anymore, and it won’t really hurt my career.”
After arriving in Denver, she quickly ended up in a band called Purple Buddha. Originally a jam band, the group soon morphed into more of a Grateful Dead Tribute band. Through the seven years spent with Purple Buddha, she was solely a singer, which at times grew frustrating.
“When you’re writing a jam band song, it’s very limited where you can go in your brain. Musically, the guys could do whatever they wanted to do; they could take it any place. But lyrically I had to settle in pretty set boundaries: it can’t get too dark, it can’t get too personal, it has to be uplifting, and people have to be able to dance to it. I’m proud of the songs that I wrote with that band, but they weren’t really me.”
After leaving the band, Chella Negro began to study the guitar and she developed her own songs. She describes the music which resulted as “like sitting in your favorite booth in your favorite dark townie bar, drinking really shitty whiskey.” The final product was an extremely minimalist debut album titled Silos and Smokestacks, which was released last February. The collection of songs is nothing more than vocals and guitars, which was ultimately what Chella Negro wanted.
“I started making the record a year and a half ago. I had a friend who was a hip-hop producer out in Brooklyn, and he said to come make [my] record. It took two weeks, two trips for a week each, and we ended up making a record store employee’s record. It’s got a lot of sounds and different variations, but once I listened to the final product – which was great – I realized that I couldn’t hand this to a bar or a person on the street and show up with just a guitar. I don’t do any of that bells and whistles stuff live. I wanted to make a record that sounded as though I were in your living room.”
To get that sound, Chella Negro recruited Brian Gerhard from the Helmet Room in Denver. Having just gotten out of what was described as a “bad relationship,” Gerhard was seen as someone who would understand the often confessional and melancholy tone of Chella Negro’s work. The partnership was quick and easy, and after a week of work the revised album was completed.
Since then, Chella Negro has been developing the act and preparing it for cross country touring, an enterprise which she hopes to begin in the spring. Recently recruiting drummer Darren Dunn has changed the overall tone of the songs. “It’s made me think more about rhythm. I’ve had to be more rigid and strict with what I play.”
Additionally, she sees her vocal style as under construction. “I always say that there’s a big black lady in me that wants to come out so bad! My singing style is different than a lot of traditional folk or country singers, so it’s already starting to creep through. It’s just how in my writing style I’ll be able to develop it, but it’s inevitable; you are what you listen to.”
Nonetheless, she doesn’t want that growth and refinement to come at the expense of reality. “Everybody says [my music] is really simple. That’s great! I don’t want it to be all convoluted. I want myself to be in everything I do. Once you add that element of machine to it, you lose a lot of authenticity.”
Chella Negro "Silos & Smokestacks"
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These days, folk singers tend to tart up their arrangements under the assumption that the simple com...These days, folk singers tend to tart up their arrangements under the assumption that the simple combination of voice and guitar puts too many people in mind of Boy Scout jamborees or other similarly traumatizing experiences. But not Ms. Negro, whose latest sticks to singing and strumming. The tack's not without risks, and at times, the overall sameyness causes the pace to flag. But Negro's crooning is crisp and sharp, helping her melodies transcend their familiarity, and she's capable of some sharp lines, like "Tell me how you fucked up and it's all her fault," from "Same As It Ever Was (Truly)," not to mention the wit displayed throughout "Your Bob Dylan." Silos & Smokestacks is uncut stuff, and when it works, the purity's invigorating.
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It’s not hard to settle in and listen for a while to Chella Negro’s melodic voice and breezy tunes. ...It’s not hard to settle in and listen for a while to Chella Negro’s melodic voice and breezy tunes. Even when the subject gets mildly blue, Negro always makes it sound like it’s all going to be ok. Still, she confesses that she has to have a “real job and it eats my soul every day.”
*Overheard during Chella Negro at Michelangelo’s: “My dog is just fine without me for awhile.”
Local Folk Rock Singer-Songwriter is a Rising Star
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No artist’s journey is without pitfalls and rough patches. For musicians, figuring out ...
No artist’s journey is without pitfalls and rough patches. For musicians, figuring out the ins and outs of the industry while determining the right sound to fulfill the desire and need to perform becomes an overwhelming endeavor to take on, especially since most have to support themselves with day jobs that have nothing to do with their music. It’s a hard road to tow, and those that can do it while remaining true to themselves become symbols of how beautiful and wonderful music can be.
Local folk rock songstress, Chella Negro, is doing just that. Fortunately, Chella’s day job as the manager of Cheapo Discs allows her the opportunity to interact with the retail end of the music business. However, at the end of the day, she gets to go home to Emma (her Alvarez acoustic guitar) and continue her own personal pursuit in the industry.
Before starting her solo career, Chella spent seven years with Purple Buddha, a psychedelic jam band. Yet songwriting conflicts arose between Chella and some of the other band members, “I would bring songs to the band and they would say, ‘This is like reading your diary. This isn’t jam band.’” For her own desire to write music, Chella had to explore different avenues for herself, “There is a very specific element to writing a jam band song. It’s great and everything but there are only so many authentic songs you can write before it starts sounding forced.”
Since she embarked on her solo career a little over a year ago, putting the pieces together has proved challenging but worth the effort. Her first record, Silos & Smokestacks, was released on February 20 at the Lions Lair. After attempting to put the record together with a friend who lived out in Brooklyn, Chella ended up working with a local studio, The Helmet Room, and Brian Gerhard to create what she describes as, “I wanted the album to sound like I was right there in your living room when you are listening to it.”
Her thoughtful album is filled with the haunting folklore of her hometown of La Crosse, Wisconsin. “A lot of my songs are about growing up and going back to my homework in Wisconsin,” Chella explains, “I go back a couple times a year and every time I come back to Denver, I have like 4 new songs. It’s weird, when you leave home and start going back, you notice things that were super familiar and all the oddities about them. You never thought it was so weird before because you were immersed in it every day. Then all of a sudden you are like ‘This isn’t normal. This is not normal life! People should know about this.’”
Finding inspiration in the stories of La Crosse’s older generation, such as her great aunt’s tales about living in rural Wisconsin during the Great Depression, Chella describes the way she utilizes her hometown’s myths in her work, “My hometown is really an interesting place anyway. It has this bizarre history and being on the river, there are a lot of unexplained things that happened there, weird occurrences. Everybody has some creepy story. I like to talk to people a lot when I am back home and get them to tell me about back in the day, like all the old people. A lot of my songs come from listening to them.” Her connection to her hometown resonates well within her chosen genre as it adds a certain grassroots feel to her music as she continues to explore La Crosse’s legends.
The personal aspect of Chella’s music comes through strong and clear. As a listener, her thoughtful lyrics evoke meaning that comes across as relatable, almost like she understands you more than any stranger ever should. Songs such as “Your Bob Dylan” seem universal while remaining individual and creative, as Chella explicates the song’s connotation as, “All the guys I date are musicians and artists. There’s gotta be a lot of girls like me out there who do that to and know that every time, it ends up being a mistake. They are too volatile and mercurial.” Even “Adelaide”, which Chella describes as a “story song” that she wrote while, “I was listening to a lot of Johnny Cash and thinking about how to write the perfect country-western song,” seems heartfelt, almost like comforting words from your best friend.
She might not be topping the charts or selling out the Fillmore, but Chella Negro has all the makings and potential of an extraordinary, noteworthy artist. Be sure to check out her set at the Larimer Lounge tomorrow evening, Thursday, March 12 or at Old Curtis Street Bar on Saturday, March 21
I play songs I wrote myself...mostly.