Chris Stapleton

Mercury Nashville, 2015

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Having lived in Texas my entire life, country music has always been inescapable for me. Whether at a barbecue joint or a school dance, a family reunion or my dentist’s waiting room, its unmistakable twang was always just an unpleasant, unavoidable part of life, like traffic or the flu. As my musical tastes expanded, I came to respect the influence of artists like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and the rest…but I was never going to like country music.

Then I heard Chris Stapleton sing “Tennessee Whiskey.”

With a blues riff that grabs you and doesn’t let go, a voice that pairs the gruffness of a cowboy with the range of a trained vocalist, and an indescribable charisma that refuses to be denied, this was a song that was more Stevie Ray Vaughn than Florida Georgia Line, more outlaw than bro. After one listen, I needed to hear more from this Stapleton guy.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Upon purchasing Traveller, his first solo album after more than a decade toiling in Nashville as a songwriter and frontman for various groups, I learned that Stapleton was far from a one trick pony. He could bring down the house with Southern rock, as he does in the title track and the playful “Might As Well Get Stoned,” songs that owe more to Lynyrd Skynyrd than Blake Shelton.

For those wanting the lovelorn country of their parents, he offers “Nobody To Blame,” a regretful breakup song, and “More Of You,” a duet with his wife Morgane that will be played in dance halls across the South for decades to come. Both songs, along with album back-enders “The Devil Named Music” and “Outlaw State Of Mind,” show that Stapleton’s roots are found in the country music of the mid-20th century, not what’s on the radio today.

…Which is not to say that he can’t summon up some radio hits. “Parachute” and “Fire Away” both have the hooks, melodies, and imagery to get the attention of the CMA crowd. Without selling out on the bluegrass-soul-blues sound that permeates the rest of the album, these hits make for accessible fare for casual country fans and critics alike.

And when the time comes to slow things down, “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “Whiskey And You” force you to turn up the volume so you don’t miss a note from Stapleton’s acoustic guitar or his low, soulful voice. However, you’ll want to turn things back down by the time you get to the album closer, “Sometimes I Cry,” a vocal performance that will leave you awestruck by its difficulty and Stapleton’s expressive, emotive delivery.

Simply put, Traveller showed the world that Chris Stapleton is, with his first solo release, a master of his craft. There are no bad songs on this album, no bad performances, and not one wasted minute. With one bold, brilliant album, Chris Stapleton made this reluctant country listener into a fan…maybe not of everything in the genre, but definitely of its brightest star.

Rating: A

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