Whiskey, sin and smoke sit down at a table with love, loss, and hope
“Some long-haired hippy prophet preaching from the book of Johnny Cash…we need a country music Jesus to come and save us all” was what Eric Church called for in his 2011 song “Country Music Jesus.” Four years later people found him in Chris Stapleton.
Dethroning the ruling era of Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean’s “Bro-Country” supremacy, Stapleton has thrust country music into a new age where authenticity, writing and talent are supreme. Spending most of his career leading the bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers, Stapleton has only recently ventured into the country realm with his solo 2014 album Traveler. Looking back to the Country Music Awards the year after it was released, Stapleton cemented himself into the fabric of the industry with an earth-shattering duet with Justin Timberlake along with the Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year and the Male Vocalist of the Year awards.
Since then, Chris Stapleton has continued on his road to the Hall of Fame following up Traveler with From a Room Volume 1 and Volume 2 winning Album of the Year yet again. Going two for two, Stapleton has released another highly-anticipated album by the name of his recently released single, Starting Over. This album is special. Stapleton exceeds even the highest expectations that are put on him; he is able to play with the line between fun and pain on each and every song, and his and his wife’s, Morgane Stapleton’s, voices leave every other artist of their generation in the dust completely and utterly.
The album cover shows the quiet badassery that is Chris Stapleton featuring a plain white background and a foreground that reads, “Title: Starting Over By: Chris Stapleton.” Once the cover has been cracked, Stapleton’s sonic magic takes over and he begins with the previously released single and title track, “Starting Over.” A simple guitar is accompanied with his gravely and sweet voice and a simple drumbeat. Joining him for the chorus, Morgane and Chris sing to each other about finding a new life together as they sing, “I can be your lucky penny, you can be my four leaf clover, starting over.” A beautiful song, Stapleton is able to show that simplicity is powerful. However, this is not the direction that he takes in his next song.
“Mama always set a good example, Daddy always gave me good advice, Jesus had to steer me in the right direction, but the Devil always made me think twice” croons Stapleton in his honky-tonking tune, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice.” He explores the tug-of-war between goodness and evil to the beat of a hard kick drum and his classic rock guitar.
Though each and every song on this album is amazing in its own way, there are a few songs on the album that make people want to drop whatever is going on and just listen; “Cold” is one of these. Piano and drums and Stapleton ease listeners into the song as they are hit with images of a lost love. The chorus then hits as he is able to show his vocal dexterity and soulful side while it seems that Stapleton is trying to yell out all of his pain.
The next one of these time-stopping songs comes with “Joy of My Life.” Just a simple pair of acoustic guitars, Stapleton again shows his love for his wife. There’s not too much to this song, however, as he has showed time and time again, simple is better, as he delivers another jaw-dropping hit.
Stapleton kicks it back into gear again with “Hillbilly Blood.” Beginning with a simple bass, kick drum and guitar, Stapleton comes in incredible as ever, and something about the beat seems to foreshadow a change. If Stapleton-brand country music could have a “bass drop,” “Hillbilly Bone” would have it. He sings, “Hillbilly Blood don’t give a shit” and people are met with a variation of rock guitars and a pick-up in drums, bass and banjo. Though not as heartfelt as others, this song shows Stapleton’s ability to be good at whatever type of song he chooses, and makes for a very fun listen.
The next show-stopping song on this album is his ode to his dog, in “Maggie’s Song.” Going through the story of her life to the laid-back groove, people see her progress from a stray in a shopping cart, to his best friend, to having to tell her goodbye. “Maggie’s Song” will put tears in people’s eyes, but leaves them wondering if they were happy or sad tears.
“Old Friends” is another beautiful and interesting track on the record. Built like a poem just as much as it is a song, it begins with a spoken narration by Stapleton himself. Backed only by duel guitars, some basic drums and a piano, again, simplicity works for him as Chris and Morgane launch into a heavenly reminiscence on all those that have brought them joy through their friendship.
The album concludes with two of these “time-stopper” songs starting with a track called “You Should Probably Leave.” A groovy drum line is paired with a guitar lick that would not be out of place in a John Mayer song. Stapleton navigates the awkward encounter of ending a bad situation. Citing that he “wants to do the right thing,” he asks a woman to leave because he “can recognize that look in [her] eyes” and knows that it’s the wrong decision. Starting Over concludes with an ironic piece about the tribulations of Nashville, Tennessee in “Nashville, TN.” The irony here comes when he sings, “so long Nashville, Tennessee, you can have what’s left of me and as far as I could tell it’s high time, I wish you well” considering that Stapleton was discovered only days after moving to Nashville. Slide and acoustic guitars mourn the loss of a broken dream.
It has been widely accepted for a few years now that Chris Stapleton is the brightest light that people have in the country music community, however, they had no idea the luminescence that he could reach. Song after song after song makes people feel—feel grief, feel like drinking, feel empathy, feel love. When an artist can do this in a song, that’s something special. When an artist can do this with every single song on an album, you get one of the greatest albums of all time, and this is exactly what Starting Over is.