Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 1 (Mercury)

Two years after his acclaimed debut solo album, Traveller was released, Nashville maverick Chris Stapleton serves up the first of a two-part follow-up.

Traveller snagged Stapleton a swag of CMA awards back in 2015 including Album Of The Year, Male Vocalist Of The Year and New Artist Of The Year. That last one is somewhat ironic seeing that Stapleton has been a working songwriter and then performer in Nashville since 2001.

But hey, good things are worth waiting for, and Chris Stapleton’s lean, gritty country outlaw sound is a breath of fresh air among the more commercial country-pop ruling the charts at the moment.

I caught Stapleton’s live show at last year’s Austin City Limits Festival and his sound draws as much from Southern rockers such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchett as it does to Waylon and Willie.

The songs on From A Room: Volume 1 find the artist in a more downbeat mood and as a result, the focus is on the song-writing and the vocal delivery.

Track one is called Broken Halos and it’s a weeper featuring Chris’s wife Morgana harmonizing while her husband sings about “broken halos that used to shine” and “folded wings that used to fly”. Willie Nelson could certainly relate.

In fact, the next song is the album’s only cover. Its Gary P Nunn’s Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning and it was a hit for the Red Headed Stranger back in 1982. Willie’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael, makes an appearance here. It’s another song to help you fill you beer mug full of tears as the protagonist wakes up to find “the alarm clock rang two hours late” and “the postman delivered a past due notice”. Needless to say, his day doesn’t get any better as he finds his partner headed for the door.

Second To No One gives Stapleton a chance to crank up his electric guitar and rock out as he demands, “don’t put my love on your back burner”.

Then it’s back to another country ballad, with Up To Know Good Livin’ sounding like it was written for Lucille-era Kenny Rogers. The songs has some of Stapleton’s best lyrics…”I used to drink like a fish and run like a dog, people called me the Picasso of painting the town”. But the rehabilitated party animal may have left it too late as, again, his lover seems to have given up on him after he’s “finally grown up”. The tune is driven by Robby Turner’s excellent pedal steel.

Later on, Stapleton throws in a taste of the blues during I Was Wrong, then brightens the mood with Them Stems, a bouncy, lighter tune bemoaning the fact that his dealer is out of town and his buddy is down to stems and seeds as well.

All-in-all this is a well-crafted, classic country album, the way the used to make ‘em 40-odd years ago. Chris Stapleton may not be breaking any new ground here, but he certainly knows how to dig up the past.

Marty Duda