Review Summary: A quick dose of the best that modern country has to offer.
An inherent problem with country music for me is that it doesn’t take much for something to be pleasurable enough that critical praise and commercial success will be lavished upon it. Every once in a while we have a man come along who stays true to the classic spirit of country music, manages to write some solid lyrics that don’t involve pick-up trucks and guns (whiskey is okay), and has a half-way decent singing voice that doesn’t stand out too
much from the crowd.
In 2015, our man was Chris Stapleton. He blew into the industry with a guitar in his hand, some admittedly good tunes, and nary an original moment on his album. A Best Album nomination and two million copies sold later, and here we are today.
Maybe I’m being too harsh on the guy. I honestly did enjoy Traveller
for all its faults thanks to the earnestness present in his delivery and obvious songwriting skills he flexed on a regular basis. Maybe country music is too far removed from the rock and hip-hop I generally enjoy (where unoriginality is flayed consistently by fans and critics) and inhabits a niche in the ear where all we need is truth and reliability. Maybe variety and uniqueness just aren’t things that marry well with the genre.
But if ever there was an example that this just wasn’t true, Stapleton manages to point out his own faults on the successor to his debut, From a Room: Volume 1
. The first of a two-part project, Volume 1
might not really do anything new with the genre, but does manage to create an endlessly enjoyable album where sounds and emotion change from song to song. While this could easily rob the album of its cohesive nature, Stapleton is more than smart enough to understand basic sequencing. The somber ballad “Either Way” flows effortlessly into the harder-edged yet mournful “I Was Wrong” which in turn fades into the western-esque and strangely uptempo “Without Your Love.” None of these songs sound quite like the others, and yet each builds into the next with such subtlety and style that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were composed at the same time they were sequenced, just to be sure everything would work out.
Stapleton seems to have crafted a varied, blissfully short, and entertaining country album without breaking a sweat. Fusing roots rock, country, bluegrass, and a healthy dose of blues, we now have a unpredictable but undeniably smooth dose of southern music that can’t be passed up thanks both to its length and strong musicianship. This is Stapleton confronting the banality of country music of both the present and past. This is Stapleton saying, “No wait, I can do better.”