The best voice in country music today is in top form on the recent release of his latest album Starting Over. They key to the album is the title track; it speaks of the need for new beginnings, mentions his friends out on the coast and states “the hard roads are the ones worth choosing”. The song brings to mind the R & B classic from Mel and Tim “Starting all over again”. The album cover is a telling ingredient, with its stark minimalism a potent recall of The Beatles and their blank cover, known to all as the White Album. It’s clear from the onset that Stapleton is at a crossroads.
From the moment of Chris Stapleton’s debut album Traveller back in 2015, he has been hailed as the new voice of country music, just as Sturgill Simpson was the year before (fame, thou fickle friend) with his 2014 release Metamodern Sounds. Turns out Traveller was no one-hit wonder. Stapleton has now released four albums and written well over 200 songs, many of them hits for others. As for his voice, it’s classic country with a whole lot of soul. Perhaps no singers but Patsy Cline, Waylon Jennings and Ray Charles ever brought as much vocal charisma to country music as does Chris Stapleton. He goes beyond country though, just as Sturgill Simpson did. For this listener, Stapleton’s work is highly reminiscent of Bob Seger, a rocker supreme and a ballad singer extraordinaire.
The new album is a mixed affair of weepers and rockers. By mixed I don’t mean a few good tunes holding up many average ones. Starting Over may well prove to be his best-selling album yet. It contains at least 5 great songs complemented by several others that just barely miss the mark. “Cold, “You Should Probably Leave,” “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice,” “Maggie’s Song,” and “Starting Over” are the future classics.
And then there’s the closer “Nashville, TN.” You may recall that the legendary John Stewart wrote and sang a great tune about the Nashville scene: it was called “Never Goin’ Back” and was released on the essential California Bloodlines album in 1968. Stapleton ups the ante considerably with his confessional and disenchanted approach to a city that brought him success and heartache. “So you be you” he sings, “and I’ll be me. So long, Nashville, Tennessee.”
Chris Stapleton has indeed embarked on a journey with Starting Over. What’s next for him? His own version of Blood on the Tracks, perhaps, or something that will arrive from as far out of left field as did Springsteen’s Nebraska. Whatever happens for him musically, I suspect the result will be soulful, authentic, and moving.
Brian Miller is the Publisher and co-Editor of Vivascene. A former record store owner and business writer, his interests range from vinyl records and high performance audio to design, photography, and succinct writing. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org