Thursday, February 25, 2016

Album Review: Traveller by Chris Stapleton

I have a network of music friends.  Whenever I am feeling uninspired by today's music I reach out to them to see what music has grabbed their attention.  I recently asked my friend Scott Colvin who is a writer and editor for #CMchat.  Yes, #CMchat is a country music website, but Scott and I go way back and I know his roots are in punk and indie.  I asked him what music he has been spinning and he said Chris Stapleton.  I had seen Chris's name pop up in Facebook feeds but I hadn't heard his music.  Scott said it was a must.  He said his music would hit me in the gut.

I had to get up at 5:30 the next morning to drop my teenage son off for his high school's district wrestling tournament.  My plan was to drop him off and go home and go back to bed and then return later in the day when the tournament started.  I dropped him off and remembered about the Chris Stapleton recommendation.  I put on Traveller and proceeded to drive.

The first song up was "Traveller".  It hit me right in the gut.

It hit me in the gut the same way The Dixie Chicks did the first time I heard them sing "Cowboy Take Me Away".  It was honest.  It was sincere.  It was country music the way i remembered it as a kid.

Today's country has so many sub genre's.  Some would classify Chris Stapleton as Alt-Country.  It's not.  It is country music.  It's country music because it crosses over to a larger audience.  All of my friends had at least one Johnny Cash album and they would tell you that they are not country music fans.  You don't have to be a country music fan to name a Tanya Tucker song or sing a Patsy Cline lyric.  You just know them and appreciate them.  Now my friends listen to Chris Stapleton.  That is the level that he is working.  It's not overproduced, it's not overdone.  It is just right.  

Through natural progression this is what real country should be today.  It's what country would have been had the over privileged frat boys not crawled out of the clubs and into their pick-up trucks to drive to Nashville.  It is about heartbreak and hardships boiled down to their simplest form. It's about getting the thoughts out of your head so that you can breath again.  It's about not knowing if you are going to survive another day. It's about knowing you are doing the best you can.  It's real country music.

As I drove the sun was rising in a picturesque manner and each song rolled out in front of me, one by one like the road.  His version of "Tennessee Whiskey" hit me like a freight train.

It's right from the veins of George Jones and David Allen Coe. Chris's version still has the same effect today.  Good music will do that to you regardless of the genre.  That is precisely why it sold 131,000 copies two days after Chris performed this song with Justin Timberlake at the CMA's.  I feel like I have been living in a hole.  

This album reminds me of a much more raw version of Pat Green's Wave on Wave.  The funny thing about Wave on Wave was that it was the album that alienated Pat from his Austin fan base. They had felt he sold out and went to Nashville.  How many of those people are now listening to Sam Hunt?

Instead of rushing back to go to bed I found myself taking the long way home.  I was drinking in the lyrics like I had been roaming through the desert. I gulped down song after song until the album was over. 

"We drove all night to Billings, Montana
Flew to Utah, slept there all day
I can't remember stopping in Denver
Yeah, I live my illusion that somebody needs me to play

Sometimes I'm drunk
Sometimes I'm stoned
And yes, I get tired of being alone
I miss my son
I miss my wife
But the devil named music is taking my life

Now I sold my soul a long time ago
   I put it in a six string and a sad melody
And I'm sometimes a winner, most times a loser
If the crowd gets into it, it'll all feel the same way to me"  

This isn't someone just trying to be famous or make a buck.  It's someone that has the music in him.  He has the devil in him.  He has God in him.  Just like we all do.

It is amazing that I went from being uninspired musically to overwhelmed in less than 24 hours. What's even sweeter is that it came from a source that was not expected.  I love that music still makes me feel this way after all these years.  Instead of going back to bed I stopped to get a cup of coffee and here I am, sharing this with you.

A punch to the gut has never been sweeter.

See you when the needle drops!


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  1. I grew up listening to country and what's now considered classic rock. I couldn't agree more with your post. From the mid-2000s on, "country" has become frat-boy pop with a twang (sometimes). Reluctantly, I began drifting away from mainstream country and began digging into acoustic indie folk for my new music fix, while continuing to listen to the classics. Chris Stapleton has restored my love and hope for country... pure country. Let's hope more follow in his footsteps.

    1. Thank you. By the time I started to appreciate country music it had already started to turn. I filled myself on alt-country, roots rock, indie folk and Americana. All of which would not be possible without country. It's nice to see the trend coming back around.


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