Chris Stapleton might have one of the more appropriate names in the industry. For over a decade, he has been a major Staple in the Nashville-music scene, collaborating with artists such as Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bently and Brad Paisley on their albums and serving as a songwriter for Vince Gill, George Strait, and Kenny Chesney.
I was raised on country music. I remember being a kid and singing Garth Brooks, George Strait, Travis Tritt, Hank Williams, Jr., and Clint Black just to name a few. As I grew older, I watched the landscape of country music start to change. It became pop with a twang. It became watered down. As I write this I am reminded like Alabama once sang “If you wanna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” As I watched this genre breakdown and become a shell of itself, I grew tired of the major players. I walked away. I still kept the good ol’ stuff on my Spotify playlist but I wasn’t actively searching out for the next country artist.
The first time I ever heard of Chris Stapleton was when he was a part of The SteelDrivers. I was listening to a radio station based on my playlist and “Where Rainbows Never Die” caught my ear. I thought to myself “This has to be an old song I missed somehow.” I did a little searching to find out this is not an old artist. This is a new artist. One who has soul. One who has grit. One who is actually country.
In 2015, Chris released his first solo album, Traveller. It was met with much fanfare. On Metacritic, it accumulated a score of 85 (of 100) which indicates “universal acclaim.” By year’s end, Chris would see this album go double platinum. It was a fine first solo album. I wanted more. I wanted the industry to be completely saturated in this style of country music in hopes that it would smother out the music that is not fitting the bill and those imposters would head for the hills.
Last Friday (May 5th, 2017), Chris released his second studio album. It’s got blues, roots rock, but most importantly its country. This album garnered the same acclaim on Metacritic as his first and is getting great writeups all across the music scene. Let’s dive into the track listing and breakdown each song:
- “Broken Halos” – In a performance at the Ryman Auditorium (Nashville, TN), Chris shared the story of this song. Chris explained “I recorded this on the day a friend of mine passed away from pancreatic cancer. He was the same age as me; we played Little League together, stuff like that. He was 38 years old.” This song can resonate with each listener as we all know someone who was taken too soon. Great song to start the album as it strongly illustrates Chris’ range and songwriting capabilities. (8/10)
- “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” – Originally, released in 1982 by Willie Nelson on Always on my Mind – Chris’ rendition is a perfect nod to one of the forefathers of country music (4th Generation). (7/10)
- “Second One To Know” – This song grabs you from the first rift. I fully expect this to be a crowd favorite at live shows. It’s got a great bluesy section in the middle of the song. Not sure if they plan on releasing this as a single but I hope they do. (9/10)
- “Up To No Good Livin'” – If Nashville would ever have a drinkin’ anthem… this would be the one. (8/10)
- “Either Way” – Chris originally wrote this song which was featured on Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy (2008). It is always interesting to hear the original writer perform their own work. Solo performance with Stapleton bellowing out where the relationship failed. (8/10)
- “I Was Wrong” – Ever heard the story of the guy being an idiot and causing himself to lose the girl that meant the world to him? Apparently, Chris knows that guy too. This song sounds straight out of the Memphis Blues Circuit. (9/10)
- “Without Your Love” – Apparently, the guy from the last song can’t get his ex off his mind. Chris’ ability to write the pain his subject feels coupled with the pain he reveals in his voice is unrivaled. (8/10)
- “Them Stems” – Rockabilly coupled with a character who is out of his “medicine.” Dealer is out of town so he has resorted to remnants of what was once “the good stuff.” (7/10)
- “Death Row” – To close this 2nd chapter of his young solo career, Chris turns to a bluesy narrative about a man who is stuck sitting behind bars for the remainder of his days. (6/10)
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