Chris Stapleton
Higher


2.5
average

Review

by fog CONTRIBUTOR (62 Reviews)
November 10th, 2023 | 19 replies


Release Date: 11/10/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Professional Americana

Is Chris Stapleton an outlaw, or the only adult (contemporary) in the mainstream country room? He's definitely a cut above in the singing department when compared to most of his contemporaries; able to shift between Texan ballads, blue-eyed soul and almost 70's rock with ease. He also doesn't seem to resort to the clunky, convoluted "wit" of his peers - Chris keeps the songwriting and themes simple and tasteful. There's lots to like about the humble presentation, but ultimately, levitating over a buried bar does not automatically make an album worth multiple listens.

These songs are, for the most part, built around really basic mid-to-slow verses, with Chris singing very singular melodic lines until the chorus. I've never felt Stapleton has developed a 'sound' the way someone like say, Ryan Bingham, did - there's an air of competence in the musical setting, nothing more. And the distinguishing jewel must be that voice - but Stapleton's delivery is too mirror-practised to really find the heart of a song trapped in the words and strings. He rarely sounds hurried or pushed - every big moment is telegraphed and comfortable. It's very professional and Stapleton understands what should be where - but it's not moving, just profoundly accurate. Stapleton spent some time in more genre-specific acts (the Steeldrivers, the Jompson Brothers), and while not considerably more impressive than his solo career, I think the narrower parameters gave his performances personality. Here, surface genre hopping feels like a box ticking exercise. We move from the polite sex jam of 'Loving you on my mind' to the overblown fidelity country ballad of 'The day I die', and on the edge of the highway line we spot the boring bar burner 'Crosswind'.

There's a brief moment of electricity on 'White Horse', one of the more dramatic tracks which veers closer to rock country cheese than the rest of the album. Stapleton almost sounds a little overwhelmed for the first time, and I like that despite the cornfire burning behind him. This even carries into the title track, with Stapleton flitting through his register to emphasize the word 'Higher' - on the nose, but also with a welcome almost-raggedness. The other highlight is the closer 'Mountains of my mind' which makes good on the hype of Stapleton's simple honesty.

I'm certainly not against an artist consciously making a solid record - not reaching for the stars, no huge trauma or big point to make. It's not really Stapleton's fault that he's sometimes touted as a prominent beacon for authenticity in a genre that has, in its most commercial form, sacrificed much of that feeling. But the polish and clichéd prose of Stapleton's work doesn't live up to that promise, and I'm not sure the storytelling or songwriting is there to compensate for it. Different corner of adult contemporary, but when Marc Cohn tells me about his father's silver Thunderbird, I'm perfectly fine not knowing whether it's true or not - I can laugh at his father figure saying a foreign car is absurd - and I can hear Marc understands loving your dad. Listening to Higher I'm not sure how Stapleton really feels or what he understands - I just know the shape of the placeholder, the appropriate tone of the colours, and the expectation of a gold star.



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user ratings (44)
3.1
good

Comments:Add a Comment 
fogza
Contributing Reviewer
November 10th 2023


9738 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Quick surface take on an album that feels very surface

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
November 10th 2023


1718 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Having only listened through this album once so far, I find it on about the same level as Starting Over where there's some poignant slower tracks, some solid rockers, but also a few fillers for padding. I did enjoy it quite a bit. Very nice review though! :D

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
November 10th 2023


9738 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks, cool of you despite differing opinions on it!

RadioNew03
November 10th 2023


184 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Son Of a Bitch

Kompys2000
Emeritus
November 10th 2023


9423 Comments


Killer review fogdawg, I like Stapleton a lot but have always sort of held him at arms' distance and this finally pins down why.

EyesWideShut
November 10th 2023


5902 Comments


I gotta check this out, I feel country music is in a good spot with a balance of mainstream and lesser known quality artists. But I can see what your saying about Stapleton even though he was breath of fresh air from that Florida Georgia Line period.

Gameofmetal
Emeritus
November 11th 2023


11561 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

hmm think all his albums so far have been excellent and white horse is sick so surprised to see this rating

Shamus248
Contributing Reviewer
November 11th 2023


802 Comments


Damn we're loading up the home page with some country haha i'm here for it

DoofDoof
November 11th 2023


14987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Maybe a little by the numbers but he has enough power in the voice and arrangements to make an impression to at least a 3-3.5 degree here I’d say

DoofDoof
November 11th 2023


14987 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Listening a second time and the album could definitely shed two songs and end up a lot tighter. 54 minutes is a bit of trudge.

Pho3nix
November 11th 2023


1587 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Doof gets it, def not a 2.5 by any means. Could be tighter, more focused for sure. A few tracks here feel like filler.



The production here is so good! 'The Fire' is fucking great, the highlight of the entire record imo. Love the bass on 'Think I'm in Love with You'. 'White Horse' is damn catchy. 'Trust' to me is almost like a country interpretation of a Bruce Springsteen song. Not sure how I feel about the closing track.



Might up this a .5 after further re-listens, def going to be on heavy rotation for the remainder of this year

Gameofmetal
Emeritus
November 11th 2023


11561 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

ok yeah definitely a little weaker than previous releases but nothing here is bad at all. Really wish he'd do more rocking or outlaw type tracks, always been pretty heavy on the slow love songs.



Really like The Bottom.

PumpBoffBag
Staff Reviewer
November 12th 2023


1530 Comments


May give this a go although it’s definitely outside my wheelhouse. Love the review still foggy, awesome job

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
November 12th 2023


9738 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Thanks pump, maybe go with one of his earlier ones... Unless you want to keep up with 2023

ashcrash9
Contributing Reviewer
November 13th 2023


3347 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

excellent review, fog. was holding out hope I'd disagree with it more than I do but it's a spot-on read of this. very richly produced (thank you, dave cobb) stuff but humble, full sound on the surface doesn't hold much of substance within it. dude's reached his walmart americana phase

gordodustin
November 13th 2023


525 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This album was pretty average for me. Chris's voice shines when he jumping up into his higher register over some blues riffs and there's basically none of that here. This isn't offensive, but it's memorable either. I don't have a desire to go back to any of the tracks.

bigweinerdon
November 14th 2023


2665 Comments


Album is too slow, he needed more rippers on here

theBoneyKing
November 17th 2023


24384 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Yeah, I'm starting to think this is his weakest album. Most of these just feel like weaker versions of songs he's written before. The performances themselves are great, but it lacks anything to really dig into. I don't think anything is less than good, but there's nothing truly great here.

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
November 19th 2023


1718 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Definitely his weakest album but that's saying something considering there still a lot of really great tunes on here. Guy just has such a charismatic delivery, lots of age and soul.



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