Chris Stapleton is a cross between an angel and Thor. His soulful voice is in stark contrast to his Grizzly Adams / Thor exterior. You would be forgiven for mistaking him as Iron Maiden’s roadie, as opposed to country music’s modern golden voiced singer songwriter. In 2017 his records From a Room Vol 1 and From a Room Vol 2 showcased his emotional depth and vocal power, which would catapult him to everyone’s must listen lists. Chris’ grounded lyrics combined with his soul / blues aesthetic harkened back to the early country of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, which gave modern country a much needed jump start. In his much anticipated follow up release, Starting Over, Stapleton revisits this winning formula.
Musically, we hear his telltale virtuosic acoustic guitar over the light shuffle of a snare drum. This simple arrangement creates the warm rustic sound many have loved about his music. However, he adds depth with bass and organ, which gives the track added complexity and expanse. The organ specifically gives the track a gospel vibe that compliments his emotional vocal delivery. You can’t help but nod your head and smile.
Lyrically, Starting Over truely excels. Stapleton has a gift for writing musical narratives with his heart on full view for everyone to see. His talent lies in how he can give a personal flair to well trodden country music themes. Clever turns of phrase and intimate storytelling breathes fresh new life into well known country tropes. On this track he explores going on the open road with the woman he loves. He sings of how the “road rolls out like a welcome mat / To a better place than the one we’re at / And I ain’t got no kinda plan / But I’ve had all of this town I can stand.” The road is both welcoming and full of possibilities, but we are all flying by the seat of our pants.
He continues to sing about the ups and down as “things fall apart” and “nights that are cold and dark.” However, there is a comforting hope in the journey: “Someday we’ll look back and smile / And know it was worth every mile.” He reinforces the power of traveling the road with someone you love by having his wife Morgane on backing vocals. Thematically, having Morgane on the track illustrates how connection and support through tough times can not only help you make it to the other side, but make the challenging journey even more rewarding. Musically, her sweet vocal is a welcome contrast to his bluesy snarl on the chorus. This reminds me of June Carter singing with Johnny Cash on tracks like As Long as the Grass Shall Grow.
I love how Chris Stapleton brings soul and blues back to country. In reality, country music is not that far removed from gospel, soul and blues. For the last decade or so modern pop country has tried to sanitise its sound and smooth out the rough blues and soul edges, which were at the core of its original sound. Stapleton is not afraid to access those parts of himself and his storytelling, which gives his tracks an emotional authenticity lacking in big arena country. Much like The Chicks, he is not afraid to be vulnerable and let you into his world. During such challenging times, it is reassuring to hear how in Starting Over everyone goes through ups and downs, but can make it through. It feels like Chris is speaking to you. Like he understands that the road is tough and dark. In essence, Stapleton’s song shows both empathy and hope. Empathy and hope…two things in short supply in 2020, but two things we need to hold onto for dear life.
Listen to Starting Over