Chris Stapleton
Starting Over


4.0
excellent

Review

by Mathias CONTRIBUTOR (48 Reviews)
November 17th, 2020 | 40 replies


Release Date: 11/13/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Damn good country.

Chris Stapleton has the unenviable position of being a bonafide mainstream country superstar that’s being forced to carry the non-bro country torch. He’s a large, bearded forty-two year old man with a powerful voice and way with a guitar. He came into the 2015 Country Music Awards relatively unknown and completely cleaned up, beating out names like Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Kenny Chesney for Best Male Vocalist while also walking away with Album of the Year. While there’s absolutely no question that he deserved to win these amongst that competition, the CMAs aren’t necessarily known for parity in their judging, clearly shown by Stapleton losing that same award to Luke Combs just five days ago. While Stapleton has contemporaries that may be more talented than him, many of them would not be experiencing near the success they would be seeing if not for Stapleton’s 2015 breakthrough. Since the success of Traveller, he’s released two albums that were largely previously-released materials. Starting Over brought forth an interesting challenge - How do you follow up on an album that effectively launched the recent revival of country music? The answer, as Stapleton saw fit, is to create damn good music.

Stapleton is practically the poster child for the Americana vs. Country debate and, arguably, the reason why that debate exists in the mainstream. Starting Over is really an embodiment of what Americana music now is, namely an amalgamation of American roots music influences, being largely Southern soul, rock, and country. The title track/opener certainly sounds much more country, with its jangling acoustic guitars and simple percussion creating a very fitting, upbeat ode to a partner. Then you have songs like “Arkansas”, co-written with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which is a rocking romp of a road trip song, and “Whiskey Sunrise”, which is a slow burn of a powerful blues song with maybe the best vocal performance Stapleton has ever put in, with its mix of raspy shouts and gentle vibrato rocking the listener to their core.

Each song shows that Stapleton is a masterful songwriter. Before his solo career, the man had co-written six country numbers on hits for a variety of artists from George Strait to Luke Bryan and had even written hits for artists like Adele and Ed Sheeran. His voice and guitar skills are only matched by his ability to write a hook. If some of these names scare you, they shouldn’t - Stapleton is able to take his pop sensibilities and roots influences and combine them in masterful ways. “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” is a Stapleton original, but actually first appeared on Hailey Whitters’ The Dream from earlier this year (one of the best pop-country releases of the past few years). Whitters’ rendition is a slow burn, almost sinister pop-country song, while the version that appears on Starting Over is a classic Southern rocker. However, versions work incredibly well because of Stapleton’s songwriting prowess.

With all of this being said, what draws people to Chris Stapleton is his ability to craft a hook, but what keeps them around is how human his work is. He’s got soul and passion behind his voice. You can hear it in the Petty-inspired rock songs, such as “Watch You Burn”, an angry number about the Vegas shootings and other mass tragedies that ends with a tumultuous minute of driving Southern rock backed with a gospel choir. However, you hear it equally in the slower songs, which is where the country side of Stapleton is most clear. “Cold” has a swell of strings and Stapleton singing of heartbreak, while “Joy of My Life” is more true to Stapleton’s true life, as it's a beautiful love song to his wife (who adds harmonies to the album), while “Maggie’s Song” will turn any pet owner into a sappy mess. Stapleton has managed to straddle commercial and “artistic” success by creating incredibly earnest music that is a joy to listen to and masterfully made. Starting Over does not break from that winning formula.

Chris Stapleton isn’t the artist that you want if you’re looking for intrinsic deep dives into the human condition. He’s not the artist that is going to keep your mind whirring from complex compositions and even more complex metaphors. Chris Stapleton is going to give you songs about loving your partner, a road trip through the Ozark Mountains, or the life of a dog, and he’s going to fill them with soul, feeling, and plenty of whiskey-related anecdotes. That’s not to say that Stapleton produces simple music. He has perhaps the most powerful voice this side of Americana, incredibly human and heartfelt lyrics, and a rocking band to back him up to all of it. With those pieces, he manages to make Starting Over the exact definition of an excellent country/Americana album.



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user ratings (55)
3.7
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
November 17th 2020


1478 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I’m fairly confident that Chris Stapleton will never disappoint me

theBoneyKing
November 17th 2020


19683 Comments


This slaps

dmathias52
Contributing Reviewer
November 17th 2020


1478 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

^Yeah what Boney said

Gameofmetal
Emeritus
November 17th 2020


10859 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really not a huge country fan but Chris Stapleton is the man.

lucazade22
November 17th 2020


623 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Liking this more than his last one

Beardog
November 17th 2020


3873 Comments


GOTTA CHECK QUESTIONMARK

Digging: Demon Hunter - True Defiance

gordodustin
November 17th 2020


310 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Easily his weakest album in my opinion. The vocal runs are lacking, and there's not enough of his slow blues sound. It's passable, but nothing special.

Pho3nix
November 17th 2020


982 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Thank you for the review! had no idea this was coming.



"From a Room: vol. 1" is easily my favorite. Album cover reminds me of the 'Greatest Hits' (1976) by James Taylor

Clumseee
November 17th 2020


1662 Comments


Might check this but I've never thought his stuff came even close to Childers, Sturgill, or Isbell

DadKungFu
November 17th 2020


874 Comments


I love this review and you

DadKungFu
November 17th 2020


874 Comments


"Might check this but I've never thought his stuff came even close to Childers, Sturgill, or Isbell"

You're not wrong but he makes up for it by having godlike vocals

Tdunn99
November 17th 2020


25 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

yeah the songwriting isn`t as strong here. In my opinion he A Room Volume 2 was his best effort so far and this does not come anywhere near it. Maggie`s Song was pretty good and there were a couple scattered about, but otherwise it felt kinda ehh in terms of writing. The guitars sounded great as does his voice.

ChoccyPhilly
November 17th 2020


12946 Comments


all hail sput country

Digging: Ellende - Ellende

Sunnyvale
November 17th 2020


1851 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

After a first listen this mostly seemed like Chris Stapleton by the numbers, which isn't a bad thing but nothing amazing. I'll have to spend some time with this one and see if it grows

PickleVai17
November 18th 2020


362 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Very disappointing for me. He set the bar really high from the get go with his debut, but here it just feels very run of the mill and lacking those bluesy vocal runs he's so damn good at doing. Catchy enough but just not that good overall

theBoneyKing
November 18th 2020


19683 Comments


I’m thinking this is his best yet tbh. About as consistent as Traveller and From A Room Vol 1 but it’s a better length than either.

Scoot
November 18th 2020


20270 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

traveler is easily his best



this is great too

bigguytoo9
November 18th 2020


885 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

this album IMO boasts his best vocal performances ever so far.

Valzentia
November 18th 2020


1133 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

album is fucking great

Digging: From First to Last - Throne to the Wolves

Darius The Imposter
November 18th 2020


22661 Comments


Mathias this is a good review I have never really read your reviews before but you are a effective writer for sure



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