Artist: Chris Stapleton
Album: From A Room, Vol. 1
Label: Mercury - Nashville
Release Date: 5/5/2017
The first time I saw Chris Stapleton live was in a hotel room for a radio taping with his then band, The Steeldrivers, nine years ago. Drawn to his soulful voice, I had a feeling that he was destined for bigger things or at least a solo breakout. He left the Steeldrivers after their 2008 Reckless album and devoted most of his time writing songs for other country singers (a path that many take). Neither I nor most anyone else at that time could have envisioned the multiple Grammy and ACM Awards bestowed on him. He set a record, becoming the first artist to win Album of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and New Artist of the year at the same CMA Awards, for Traveller. It is refreshing to see an artist embraced by the Americana and roots communities rise to the top of the country charts, given some of shlock that’s reached that positon in recent years. The bar can’t possibly be set any higher, so we are all anticipating what Stapleton will do next. Now we have that answer—or at least the first half of it. Volume 1 comes exactly two years after the release of Traveller. Volume 2 will be coming later this year. These albums take their names from Nashville’s renowned RCA Studio A, where it was recorded this past winter.
Stapleton returns with ace producer Dave Cobb and the same cast of backing musicians. Why not? In addition to Stapleton on vocals and electric guitar, Cobb is on acoustic guitar, Chris’s wife Morgane is on harmony vocals and his long-time rhythm duo of J.T. Cure on bass and Derek Mixon on drums returns as well. Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Robby Turner on pedal steel, and Mike Webb on keys are back too. It’s also worth mentioning that Stapleton continues to write most of his songs with his Steeldrivers bandmate Mike Henderson, who is adept at multiple genres and has led his own Nashville-based blues band, the Bluebloods, for years. While the Steeldrivers were primarily a bluegrass band, Stapleton and Henderson work seamlessly between several genres—you’ll hear the blues in both Stapleton’s voice and guitar work. As a result, Stapleton appeals to fans of Southern rock, outlaw country, Americana singer-songwriters, and even commercial country. He has the right combination of grit and natural delivery to separate him from most of the other chart-topping artists.
You’re probably already hearing the album’s first single, “Either Way” or “Broken Halos,” both with primarily acoustic backing, putting Stapleton’s glorious pipes in the forefront. You’ll likely recognize the second cut, “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” the album’s only cover tune, which was popularized by Willie Nelson. The rocking begins with Stapleton’s piercing electric guitar in “Second One to Know.” Varying tempos and genres follow, as if Stapleton wants to touch all the bases he did last time. For example, there’s the outlaw theme in “Them Stems,” which we could probably consider a companion piece to Travellers’ “Might As Well Get Stoned.” His most passionate vocal is in self-confessional, utterly convincing “I Was Wrong.”
While this is solid stuff, it’s mostly quiet as the album name suggests. Volume 2 may offer an opportunity to change the tone and energy a bit but suffice it say, that Stapleton and Cobb have found a successful formula. Who can blame them for being reluctant to change it?
Stapleton’s tour will be extensive, grace many large venues, and likely give his audiences a preview of Volume 2 as well. Along the way, he will feature as guest artists the Brothers Osborne, Lucie Silvas, Anderson East, Brent Cobb, Margo Price, and Marty Stuart. Many of these shows are already sold out so it behooves you to act quickly to secure tickets.