If you have listened to the radio in the past 5 years, you know Chris Stapleton. While writing songs for Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, and many others, he has established himself as one of the top men in the songwriting business. He has had numerous number ones, writing some of the better songs on the radio. He was also previously in the band The Steeldrivers, making sweet, sweet bluegrass music. Now, Chris is on his own. He has released his debut album Traveller to great amounts of hype and fanfare. In this case, we actually have an album that lives up to the hype. Traveller is easily one of the best albums of the year.
One of the things that makes Traveller so great is the fact that this is a mainstream country release. This is a major label and a guy with serious Music Row credibility. It was produced by the prolific Dave Cobb, the same guy behind many of your favorite independent traditional country artists such as Sturgill Simpson. Right off the bat, you can tell you’re in for something special. Chris mixes traditional outlaw-country with southern rock and blues to create a unique sound that is fun to listen to and hits you hard. Chris has a voice that is unmatched in range and power. He could sing the phone book and make it sound like a hit. He really gets to show off those vocals on the Waylon-esque “Nobody To Blame” and the ode to the open road, “Traveller”. He also hits some stellar highs on “Fire Away” and “Sometimes I Cry”. In reality, “Sometimes I Cry” is just a “look what Chris can do with his voice” track. And it works. He absolutely kills it. “When The Stars Come Out” sounds like it could be a radio single, but still has that sweet steel guitar backing. Chris takes the two covers on the album, “Tennessee Whiskey” made famous by George Jones and David Allen Coe, and “Was It 26” by Charlie Daniels and makes them totally his own. “Tennessee Whiskey” has been transformed into a bluesy soul song, while “Was It 26” has a tough-as-nails vibe that brings out the grit in Chris’ voice. “More Of You” is a sweet, laid back love song that also sounds like something Waylon would have done (he wasn’t all outlaw anthems). It could have been cut in 1978 and fit in just fine. Speaking of outlaws, “Outlaw State of Mind” is a cross-country trip through the south that has a long musical outro that gets your blood pumping. “The Devil Named Music” is a dark and truthful look at the music business from an insiders’ point of view.
The album doesn’t really have any bad songs, but man does it have a few that stand out from the already stellar crowd. “Parachute” may be the best song on the album. This southern rock jam has enough country soul to stay grounded in the genre, but enough rock energy to make you find that extra gear on the highway. The driving beat and souring vocals make this one an instant classic. Chris really outdoes himself on this one. On the other end of the tempo spectrum we have “Whiskey and You”. This song made it into my Top 10 Songs of The Year last year when Jason Eady covered it. Chris is the original writer, and his version is nothing short of mesmerizing. He shows off vocal acrobatics, rising to a near a shout then hushing to a whisper to really bring out the emotion of every word. This is a guy in 100% control of his voice and he yields it like a deadly weapon ready to slay the ears of any innocent passerby. Chris delivers a second emotional gut-punch with “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore”. This song has a lonesome harmonica in the background while Chris laments the changes in his father’s life. It will really cut you deep when you hear the sadness dripping from every line.
If you can’t tell, I am ecstatic about this record. To have a guy with such a high standing in the mainstream world release a major label album of this kind of quality is unheard of. Chris Stapleton is following in Jamey Johnson’s footsteps from a few years ago as he establishes a true country sound among the mainstream crowd. I don’t want to hear people calling this “traditional country”, it is just “country”. This is what our genre should sound like. This album is 1955, 1977, and 2015 all wrapped up into one. It is traditional and forward thinking. Country music isn’t dead folks. Chris Stapleton just went and shocked it back into life. Go out and grab two copies of Traveller as soon as you can, as you will wear the first one out pretty quickly. THIS is what I call keeping it country, kids!
Standout Tracks: "Parachute", "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore", "Whiskey And You", "Traveller", "Nobody To Blame", "Was It 26"
"Whiskey And You"