Monday, December 04, 2017

Chris Stapleton is the Real Deal

With two outstanding albums released in the span of 8 months, it's safe to say that "Traveller" was no fluke, and that Chris Stapleton is one of the most distinctive male voices to hit the country scene in a long time - and maybe ever, if he keeps up this pace.

If there was any drawback to "Traveller," it's that it was almost too much of a good thing.  It was great, don't get me wrong - but with 14 songs clocking in at an average of 4:52, I rarely had the patience to listen to it all the way through, in one sitting.  In contrast to their predecessor, the two volumes of "From a Room" (Volume 1 was released in May; Volume 2 on December 1) are about half the playing time of the debut, each hitting the finish line in a little over 32 minutes.  That's certainly not a long album in this day and age, but in the end the relative brevity of the songs is a plus - hitting the perfect balance between "this is the exact right amount of time I need to make my point" and "let's leave 'em wanting just a little bit more."

What jumped out on Volume 1 that wasn't immediately apparent on "Traveller" was Stapleton's sense of humor; it was hard to listen to songs like "Up to No Good Livin'" and "Them Stems" without ending up with a smile on your face.  But Volume 2 is even stronger - it's an absolute killer from start to finish, with love and hard times prevalent among its themes.  From "Tryin' to Untangle my Mind:"

So if you see me
and I'm lonesome and stoned
so far down the devil's looking high
I'm just trying to untangle my mind

And from "Nobody's Lonely Tonight," which just might take its place among the great "last call for alcohol" songs of all time:

Sitting here it's closing time
You've got your troubles
And I bet they're just like mine
Somebody told you goodbye

But I know a way
We can't go wrong
And nobody leads nobody on
And nobody's lonely tonight

To these ears, the album's standout tracks are "A Simple Song," which is anything but, and "Midnight Train to Memphis," which apparently is an old tune that Stapleton sings in all of his shows.  Taken together, the two songs show off Stapleton's range, the former being a quiet tune about a man facing a fair amount of despair in his life but still hanging on enough to be able to say:

But I love my life man it's something to see
It's the kids and the dogs and you and me
It's the way it's alright when everything goes wrong

...And the latter being a "crunch rocker" that sounds as if it came right out of the Drive-By Truckers playbook. 

What ties this all together is Stapleton's voice, which is his strongest instrument.  It's a voice that transcends labels - sure he's country, no doubt about that, but he's also rock 'n roll, soul and the blues.  And while it may have taken a while for the Stapleton Express to get rolling, he's going to around for a long time.  There's no question that "From a Room, Vol. 2" is one of the year's best albums, with Vol. 1 not far behind.