When Chris Stapleton burst onto the scene, he didn’t just enter through the front door — he kicked the damn thing down. His electric performance alongside Justin Timberlake (performing Timberlake’s “Drink You Away”) at the 2015 Country Music Awards helped broadcast the soulful power of his voice to millions, and his debut album Traveller received two nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards for both overall Album of the Year and Country Album of the Year — with the record taking home the honors for the latter.
If Traveller taught us anything, it’s that Chris Stapleton can write the hell out of a ballad. From a Room, Vol. 1 finds Stapleton crooning some of the soulful strains we’ve come to know and love, but also sees the singer expanding his sonic palette. Once again enlisting country producer superstar Dave Cobb (who also produced critically-acclaimed albums like Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free), Stapleton’s most recent effort continues his status as the most captivating voice in country music.
Through the thick-bearded, cowboy-hat-and-Southern-twang exterior lies not a country singer, but a soul singer. His music may be set to classic country riffs and harmonica melodies, but extract Stapleton’s voice from the mix and you’ll find something closer to a mix of Otis Redding and Joe Cocker, with a little Willie Nelson thrown in for good measure. It should come as no surprise, then, that his cover of Nelson’s “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning” is as soulful as it is honest — a hallmark of Stapleton’s music.
The comparisons to Shotgun Willie don’t stop there, either; the two share a well-documented affinity for marijuana. On Traveller’s “Might As Well Get Stoned,” Stapleton sang about how he’d turn to weed when he ran out of whiskey; on “Them Stems,” he’s so much of an aficionado that it’s the only thing that brings him some joy. On the song, he sings, “My baby, she done said goodbye / And all I ever do is cry / There ain’t nothing ‘round the house now to make me grin / ‘Cause this morning I smoked them stems.”
It’s this variety in the sound of From a Room, Vol. 1 that makes it so darn fun to listen to. “Second One To Know” is a rollicking, incendiary number that showcases Stapleton flexing his chops during a fierce guitar solo. “Death Row” is a downtempo blues number that could easily be mistaken for a B.B. King cover. Though just nine tracks long, these are songs about having a good time — maybe even too good of a time — and dealing with the heartache that comes after.
The album’s emotional cortex lies on “Either Way,” a finger-picked, stripped-down acoustic version of the song he originally penned nearly a decade ago for Lee Ann Womack. The song addresses the inner workings of a failing relationship; “We pass in the hall on our way to separate rooms / The only time we ever talk is when the monthly bills are due,” Stapleton sings, before admitting to faking a perfect life. “I’m past the point of giving damns / And all my tears are cried.” Stapleton’s soaring vocals cry out during the chorus, “We can just go on like this / Say the word, we’ll call it quits / Baby, you can go or you can stay / But I won’t love you either way.”
From A Room, Vol. 1 is, in fact, just that: the first of two volumes. From a Room, Vol. 2 is set to follow later this year, but if there’s one thing Stapleton proves with this album, it’s that no matter how high the (already lofty) bar is set, it’s always within reach.
by Trevor Paxton
Song You Need To Hear: "Either Way"
From a Room, Vol. 1