- 18 Nov 20
The Gospel According To Chris
For those who doubt Chris Stapleton’s status as the reigning king of country, know this: he’s getting his own exhibit in the Country Music Hall Of Fame Museum in Nashville. Short of marrying Patsy Cline, that’s about as country as it gets, but then he had already established his bona fides on three great albums, starting with 2015’s Traveller, a record that helped put some real soul back into a genre that was floundering.
The annual Country Music Association Awards came in for some deserved stick only last week for failing to even mention the passing of John Prine, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Billy Joe Shaver at this year’s do. The omission led to husband and wife Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires returning their membership cards in protest, and they had a valid point, as it was a pretty major oversight. If we go back five years to November 4th, 2015, however, we can remember a night that the CMA Awards got it right.
Traveller had been released in May of that year, and had enjoyed some commercial success, but when Stapleton – still relatively unknown - sang ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ on the broadcast with friend and champion, Justin Timberlake – Stapleton would feature on Timberlake’s 2018 single ‘Say Something’ - he achieved viral lift off. He also took home three awards; male vocalist, new artist, and, most importantly, album of the year. That record is still in the Billboard Country Top Ten, five years later.
Starting Over, despite its title, is another welcome helping from similar stock. Though his antecedents are very much the country outlaws of the seventies, he combines that sound with his moving soul holler, a voice described as a cross between Merle Haggard and Ray Charles, which should be recommendation enough for anyone. He quite possibly has a few southern rock records back up in the house too.
Listen to the strings behind ‘Cold’ as that voice opens up for the chorus, the Waylonisms of ‘When I’m With You’, or the road rockin’ ‘Arkansas’. Try then the great ‘Watch You Burn’, a co-write with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell, which goes up a notch when the choir burst in, or the even better again deep southern comfort of ‘Hillbilly Blood’. This is another marvellous record, and that’s before I even mention the lovely reading of Guy Clark’s ‘Old Friends’, one of three choice covers, along with ‘Worry B Gone’, another Clark number that featured on Willie Nelson’s Moment Of Forever album, and John Fogarty’s ‘Joy Of My Life’, which Stapleton makes his own.
More good news is the fact that Dave Cobb, the man behind classics from Sturgill Simpson’s and Shooter Jennings, and the man who worked the production desk on that debut album, as well as the two 2017 follow-ups, From A Room: Volumes 1 & 2 - named for the famous RCA Studio A in Nashville where they were recorded - is back making it all sound warm and right. Any record that stretches from the gentle title track, where Stapleton’s voice melds perfectly with that of his wife, Morgane, to the plaintive ‘Nashville, TN’ both demands and warrants your attention. There’s even a heart breaking song about his dog. Does Maggie make it to the end of the tune? It's not that kind of album. Stapleton fans will welcome Starting Over like a long lost friend, and it's highly recommended for everyone else too.