By Denise Torenbeek
The broad strokes of Chris Stapleton’s story have long since been transformed into contemporary country-music mythology. A veteran songwriter who spent 15 years writing for bros (Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett), traditionalists (George Strait, Alison Krauss), and the most popular singer in the world (Adele), Stapleton finally stepped out on his own with 2015’s Traveler, one of the decade’s most assured debuts by an artist in any genre. A modest seller initially, Traveler became a multi-platinum phenomenon in the wake of the 49th annual Country Music Association Awards where Stapleton won three big awards (Album Of The Year, Male Vocalist Of The Year, New Artist Of The Year) and brought the house down in a blistering duet with Justin Timberlake.
From A Room: Volume 1 is the first new music, two years to the day, from Stapleton since that point and is to be followed by From A Room: Volume 2 coming later this year.
The album takes its name from Nashville’s historic RCA Studio A, where it was recorded last winter. Stapleton, the burly, bearded son of an Appalachian coal miner said he recorded Traveler under the radar, with measured expectations, but this time around, after his meteoric rise, he faced unexpected pressures, not least avid interest from country music’s power players.
“We got the luxury of making the last record in this vacuum where no one was overly interested or cared to interfere,” he said. “This time, one day I walked in and Dolly Parton had sent me a song. Things like that are heavy. That’s the highest compliment you can get.”
When Stapleton recorded Traveler, he asked his record label if he could simply make an album, release it and go play it live without worrying about its commercial viability. Stapleton would have considered 50,000 copies sold a “huge victory.” It sold 2 million. (Fifty thousand in the week following the Timberlake duet on the CMAs – more than half the total sold in the previous six months.)
Once again produced by Dave Cobb, From A Room Volume 1 features eight original songs and, to remind us where the source of his inspiration lies, Stapleton throws in a cover, ‘The Last Thing I Needed, The First Thing This Morning,’ made famous by Willie Nelson, blows in here like a desert wind, arid but comforting.
Chris said his inclusion of the song was down to his love of the song. “If I think if there is somebody out there who hasn’t heard that song, they should hear it – whether they hear it from me or Willie Nelson, or Gary P. Nunn, who wrote the song. It’s important to hear that song because it’s a great song. I have no illusions that everything that I write is the best thing for me to record. There are great songs out there that I love, and if I know them and I love them, I’m going to sing them. That’s what songs are for.”
‘Up to No Good Livin’ strikes up a forlorn waltz as it unravels the saga of a reveller – and owns the best line on the album… People call me the Picasso of painting the town – and his hard-won redemption.
The first radio single, ‘Either Way’ was my favourite track on Lee Ann Womack’s 2008 Call Me Crazy album, and it turns out Morgane (Mrs Stapleton) was singing backup for Lee Ann at that point so was perhaps also the catalyst for that version.
What Stapleton and Dave Cobb do this time is let the song essentially sing itself. All you hear is Stapleton’s singing, which packs the potency of a cyclone, and a lone acoustic guitar. In short, the song is left to bleed before your ears with raw, uncompromising urgency.
‘I Was Wrong’ is a laid back piece of blues that segues superbly into the lost love reflections of ‘Without Your Love’; tonight I find you in my dreams, and tomorrow I wake up and have to see you fade away.
Stapleton didn’t elaborate on there being no new songs for this outing, but explained, “None of these songs are new. None of them have been written in the last two years. They all pre-date the last record. We evaluated the songs, and some of them were probably on the short list to get recorded last time. I’ve always tried to make music that I would want to listen to. I think that is the best litmus test for what you want to record or create. I’m a fan of albums, too, so I’ve always liked stuff that works together in one pot.”
… read the rest of the story in Issue 85