The only familiarity I’ve had with the big hits of country music in recent years has been through songs by Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, etc., so my knowledge of the genre, otherwise known these days as bro-country or pop music with a cowboy hat, is a little rusty. If Chris Stapleton is a fair representation of it at present, I’m ready to apologize for my ignorance. However, I suspect he’s not. If this were the norm, there wouldn’t be so much buzz surrounding him.
In November, Stapleton won three Country Music Association Awards including Album of the Year. He’s up for the equivalent award at the Grammys this year, along with the Best New Artist he won at the CMAs (and pending equal for the Grammys). Not bad for a debut album, but Chris isn’t exactly new to the scene. He’s written hits for Darius Rucker, Luke Bryan, and hoards of other country notables, and recorded as part of the Grammy-nominated bluegrass band The SteelDrivers. Traveller is just his first time recording as a solo artist.
His sound is timeless. Classic, yet fresh. Real, yet relatable. The authenticity is in the digging guitars that play a central role across the album and his biting vocals that present surprising range, control, strength and depth. Tennessee Whiskey was my first foray into Stapleton territory and the soulful delivery of his voice won me over faster than I could down a shot.
There are genuine rockers on Traveler. The mid-tempo title track, the hopeful Parachute, and the fiery bite of Outlaw State Of Mine, and as solid as those are, the best moments are when he slows it down – but he doesn’t mellow.
On Fire Away, he takes the brunt of his lover’s anger (“Choose the words that cut like a razor”), while with just his guitar on Whiskey And You, compares her to the drink (“One’s the devil/one keeps driving me insane/At times I wonder if they ain’t both the same”). He’s never sharper than the highlight Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore, a song he wrote years ago, shelved, and brought back after his father passed, adding a new verse:
Today I followed daddy down to church
and listened to the preacher read God’s word
We sang his favourite hymn but daddy didn’t make a sound
This afternoon we’ll lay him in the ground.
The record ends on a bluesy note with his snarling vocals for Sometimes I Cry, vocals that will undoubtably make Chris Stapleton a staple in country music for decades to come. He has widespread appeal, capable of winning over fans of today’s country, yesterday’s country, even indie admirers since, for the time-being, he still holds the role of the underdog.
Once upon a time, country music had soul. Chris Stapleton is evidence that it still does. This is only the beginning.
2. Fire Away
3. Tennessee Whiskey
5. Whiskey And You
6. Nobody To Blame
7. More Of You
8. When The Stars Come Out
9. Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore
10. Might As Well Get Stoned
11. Was It 26
12. The Devil Named Music
13. Outlaw State Of Mind
14. Sometimes I Cry