You don’t know how long I stared at a blank computer screen figuring out how to open this piece. I mean, it’s Chris Stapleton, what all do I say? You don’t need a rehash of his Wikipedia page, and unless you live on the planet of Zepnar you already know about the whole CMA thing. What is there to say?
I guess that as a blogger I’m expected to just immediately gush over him, is that right? Truth be told, I’ll do that later, but in truth I don’t revisit Traveller all that often, at least not in one sitting. It ran too long, and while the album was great, I’m not quite sure I’d place it in the category of “excellent” today.
And that’s kind of weird, because most of the big problems I had with Traveller are almost non-existent on his new project, From A Room. Sure, it’s just nine songs fished out of the vault for Stapleton to give to us while he records a new project, but at the same time this feels like so much more than that.
For starters, for anyone who complained that Traveller was too long, there’s almost just as many people complaining that this album is too short given that it’s nine tracks. Now, I have a piece I’m working on right now regarding album length, but I’ll say this – in a year where I feel that so many projects would be better if they just trimmed those one or two layers of fat off, it’s refreshing to hear an album like this that leaves me feeling satisfied rather than bored. Seriously, aside from some tracks in the latter half (which we’ll get to), I can’t name a single song off of here that I would’ve cut personally, and that’s saying something!
Of course, none of that would matter unless the songs themselves were actually good, so let’s get to this, shall we? I think overall this album shows some stronger lyricism. Whereas tracks like “Nobody To Blame” and “More Of You” felt a little too on the nose in their message, most of these songs connect on such a deeper level. “Broken Halos” is a masterful look at life and death as well as the people who make an impact on our lives, and while we’ve heard “Either Way” before courtesy of Lee Ann Womack, there’s still just something about the brutal honesty and framing that shows a deeper emotional connection.
However, if we really want to talk emotional connections we’re going to of course bring up Chris as a vocalist. A song like “I Was Wrong” may show off his best vocal performance to date, and while it does feel like he’s shouting during the chorus of “Either Way” more than anything else, there’s no denying the emotion in his voice on this killer track (it gets my vote for the best track here).
I also think there’s a greater variety to the sound here. Sure, it doesn’t deviate much from the country/rock/soul hybrid he created before, but it feels like he really honed in and committed to finding the right sound for these songs rather than just firing at random. Sure, songs like “I Was Wrong” and “Without Your Love” are among the weaker tracks here lyrically, but they’re both bolstered by some more soulful, blusier touches that you end up loving them regardless. And if you really want to get into soulful and bluesy, the album closer “Death Row” in a lot of ways reminds me of when Brent Cobb ended off his last album, Shine On Rainy Day with “Black Crow”. They’re both incredibly dark not only in their sound, but also their lyrical content, and they manage to make something truly potent within such a short amount of time.
There’s also some classic country touches in the wonderfully produced “Up To No Good Livin’” as well as the Willie Nelson cover of “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”, and other tracks like “Second One To Know” and “Them Stems” provide moments of upbeat (as much as you can get upbeat from Stapleton) fun to balance out the record.
Now, that’s also somewhat of a complaint of mine with the record. Several of these songs are playing to a mid-tempo vibe, and while the album is only nine songs, you do have to wonder if some variety in that regard could have been added to make the project feel whole. Also, if I were to signal out a weak track among the bunch, I don’t dislike it (mostly because that filthy harmonica play is excellent), but “Them Stems” is the one track on here that feels not quite as strong as the others if only for feeling a little out of place here.
But at the end of the day, I have to say, this album really connected with me, even more so than Traveller. I think they capped off at a great length for this release, and while the songs themselves may just be old tunes from Stapleton’s vast catalog, several of these songs feel like they could be in the running for some of the best of the year come December. Sure, there’s not really an overarching narrative theme to this due to that, but when I get nine songs that are this good, I’m not complaining. The rollout for this album has been strange to say the least, and while I don’t know if we’ll actually get Vol. 2 this year, Vol. 1 is providing more than enough happiness for me. I’m feeling a light 9/10 for this project.
Best Songs: “Broken Halos”, “Either Way”, “Death Row”, “I Was Wrong”, “Second One To Know”, “Up To No Good Livin’”
Weakest Song: “Them Stems”