Traveller - Chris Stapleton
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Review of "Traveller - Chris Stapleton"
Brighton Marathon done in 4:32:01, London Marathon in 4:38:47. A little over £1200 (including Gift Aid) raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.
It seems as if you can’t go anywhere in country music recently without hearing great things about Chris Stapleton. Stapleton is a man who has earned a great following in country music by writing songs for other people, but has recently released a debut album of his own, “Traveller”, that is winning artist and album of the year accolades all over the place. He has won so many awards that Little Big Town, accepting an award for the best group, thanked Stapleton for not being eligible in that category, having swept all the awards he was eligible for.Stapleton has not just great quality, but great range. At the 2015 Country Music Association Awards, his duet with Justin Timberlake on “Drink You Away” and “Tennessee Whiskey” alongside a huge backing band was all anyone was talking about the morning after, despite Eric Church releasing an album literally that night. At the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2016, Dolly Parton and Katy Perry teamed up, but it was Stapleton’s stripped down version of “Whiskey and You” performed without support and ornamentation that stole the show. He had previously done the same at the Country 2 Country festival on the same song by having his backing group leave the stage and performing the track in that huge arena with no lights, no backing video and just an acoustic guitar. No less a musical figure than Radio 2’sMichael Ball said this was the standout performance of a 3 day festival that had multiple award winners alongside him in the line-up.
The album opens on the title track and the pedal steel guitar immediately sets the scene. “Traveller” is a mid-tempo blues-country number with a catchy chorus that shows how good a singer Chris Stapleton is with a rough blues-tinged country voice and it also shows how good his wife and backing vocalist is, both as a singer in her own right, but also as a complement to Stapleton. This is a song with a great foot-tapping beat and a lyric that fits the music and the vocal perfectly. It’s the shortest track on the album and passes by beautifully, like the traveller of the title.“Fire Away” has another bluesy electric guitar intro and the vocal once again perfectly complements this. The chorus is slightly more expansive with the addition of a slow drumbeat, pedal steel guitar and the backing vocal giving the song a slight country tinge. It’s a beautifully put together song, but there’s not a lot of variation either musically or lyrically and the slower tempo does make the song drag a little.
Next up is one of the songs Stapleton did with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 Country Music Awards, “Tennessee Whiskey”. There’s a deep bluesy guitar intro and this one turns into a Southern rock influenced blues ballad with Stapleton’s vocal making it sound like an early Black Crowes song. There is the odd country leaning to the music and in the lyrics, but this is a blues-based track. There’s a lot of emotion through the vocal and more musical variation than “Fire Away”, making this a superb song for listening to quietly with a glass of Tennessee Whiskey and making it far superior to the track that preceded it.The country guitar intro to “Parachute” reminds me a little of Lady Antebellum, but the song itself has more of a Southern rock feel than they usually manage. It’s got a foot-tapping drumbeat and both acoustic and electric guitars add a little bounce to the music and push it along at a decent high to mid-tempo beat. Vocally, it’s just Stapleton and the song really stretches his vocal and it never sounds anything less than fantastic.
“Whiskey And You” is a song I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear again without remembering Stapleton’s awesome live rendition of the song at Country 2 Country 2016. Fortunately, the recorded version of the song is equally heart-wrenching and powerful. It’s a very simple song musically, a blues ballad with acoustic guitar and vocal, as it was on the stage that night. It’s the emotion in the vocal through lines like “I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome ‘cause I drink” that makes this a dangerous song to listen to alone and maudlin, as tears will almost certainly be the result.The early harmonica and pedal steel guitar marks “Nobody To Blame” as a country song but, as with much that had gone before, the vocal, the electric guitar and lyrical content give the song a blues-rock edge. It’s quite similar to “Traveller” in that the chorus becomes a little more expansive and the backing vocals give it an added roundness. The guitar solos are pure country, but there are a number of blues elements to the song as well and they combine perfectly.
The acoustic opening and vocal tone make “More Of You” out to be a pure country ballad. Indeed, apart from the male vocal, this could be an old Dolly Parton song. The backing vocals turn it into more of a duet and keep things a little more interesting. As well sung as this is, it is a one-paced down-tempo country ballad and does meander and drag a little.The early pedal steel guitar puts a country twang on “When the Stars Come Out” early on as well, although the piano is an unusual addition to this album. This is another country ballad, but with more instrumentation, it passes by far more pleasantly than “More Of You”. Some of the observational lyrics wouldn’t be out of place on a Billy Joel song, particularly when you consider the piano, but the music and vocals never let you forget this is a sweet, heartfelt country ballad.
Country music often references faith, which is hardly surprising given that Nashville is one of the places that had been referred to as “the buckle on the Bible belt”. That makes “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” something of a surprise. This is a blues-tinged country ballad, with acoustic guitar and harmonica in the foreground and a quiet brushed drum in the background. Both lead and backing vocals and perfectly performed in a low key fashion and it’s a heart-wrenching song of lost faith, which is as beautiful as it is unusual.“Might As Well Get Stoned” is far more on a country music message. The fuzzy electric guitar and organ opening immediately evokes the Black Crowes “She Talks To Angels”, which was a song about a stronger drug. Whatever the message, both are fantastic down-tempo and downbeat Southern rock ballads with excellent blues guitar and an almost gospel-soul feel to the backing vocals. There is a seeming lyrical nod to Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, although the message here is much more overt.
After the Southern rock, “Was it 26” has a much more Wild West cowboy feel and wouldn’t have been out of place on Jon Bon Jovi’s ”Blaze of Glory” album, if only it were about outlaws, with the fuzzed acoustic and electric guitars and a bluesy vocal. The lyrics are introspective and well worth a close listen and, strangely, it’s the chorus that feels the weakest part of the song, especially lyrically. The cowboy country feel makes the song stand out and whilst it’s not one of my favourite songs on the album, it’s certainly one of the most distinctive.There’s a bluesy start to “The Devil Named Music” with a guitar and harmonica opening. As with “Might As Well Get Stoned”, it’s got a Black Crowes Southern rock ballad feel, with plenty of yearning in the vocal and a chorus that feels just a choir away from being a gospel song. The song is down-tempo and the longest on the album at just over six minutes long, but it’s so beautifully compelling that it never seems to outstay its welcome, assisted by some vocal styling late on that really shows off both the power and quality of Stapleton’s voice.
“Outlaw State of Mind” has a much darker feel, with the guitar down an octave and a sonorous drum beat. Once the chorus kicks in for the first time, it picks up a little and has a blues-rock feel, especially once the harmonica kicks in a little later on. Once again, it’s a long track, although the deeper feel of the music combined with a long musical break in the middle and later parts of the song do make it drag a little, but also remind me a little of the Dr. John version of “Season of the Witch” from the “Blues Brothers 2000” soundtrack, as it has a similar Louisiana swamp blues feel. That song didn’t appeal to me much at first either, but it has grown on me over the years, so maybe this one will, too.The album finishes with “Sometimes I Cry”, which is one of the shorter songs on the album and returns to the blues ballad feel, but keeps it fairly simple with just the vocal and fuzzy electric guitar early on before adding some percussion a little further in. Sadly, a little like “Fire Away” earlier on in the album, the slow tempo and lack of variation does mean it drags a little and the vocals seem a little overwrought rather than powerfully impressive this time around.
For all it has a slightly weaker ending, “Traveller” is a hugely impressive album and it comes as no surprise that both it and Chris Stapleton have been showered with praise and rewards. It straddles the line between blues and Southern rock perfectly and is so well written it appeals to both the Southern rock fan and the lover of lyrics that I am.There is an added bonus in that there’s quantity to go with the quality. The 14 tracks here play for just over 63 minutes which, for £4.99 plus postage for a from the Amazon Marketplace for a used copy, £7.99 for an mp3 download or £9.49 for a new physical copy, is good value indeed, especially for something this good. “Traveller” really should be an essential album for any Southern rock fan, as this is an excellent example of a fine genre.
Product Information : Traveller - Chris Stapleton
Manufacturer's product description
Sub Genre: Country Rock
Original Release Year: 2015
Performer: Chris Stapleton
Distributor: Universal Music; Sony Music/Sony DADC
Studio / Live: Studio
Pieces in Set: 1
Listed on Ciao since: 21/03/2016