Album Review: Chris Stapleton’s ‘From A Room: Volume 1’
Chris Stapleton went from relative unknown to rock star in just a few short years. Many in the industry and fans who follow the independent scenes have known about him for a while, thanks to being a top songwriter for Nashville’s biggest hit-makers (and even Adele) and his work with bluegrass outfit The Steel Drivers. Stapleton though was finally given a platform he more than deserved one faithful night in November at the CMA Awards, where he electrified the crowd alongside pop superstar Justin Timberlake. Ever since this night it’s never been the same for Stapleton as his debut album Traveller racked up critical acclaim and achieved double platinum status. Needless to say the anticipation and hype building up to his sophomore album From A Room: Volume 1 has been through the roof.
For those who appreciate an artist absolutely excelling at his craft and doing what he does best, From A Room: Volume 1 is fantastic from start to finish. I would even go so far to say this is better than Traveller, which was slightly brought down by its track length (for this listener it was about two to three songs too long on some listens). This album has no such problems with the album at 9 songs long and right around 33 minutes in length. It’s perfect; especially considering volume two is coming later this year.
Stapleton gets spiritual in opening song “Broken Halos.” It’s a simple song that actually allows the melody to really dictate the flow and feel of the song. The feel good nature of the song essentially invites the listener in. Stapleton then covers the Gary P. Nunn co-written track, “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning.” Popularized by Willie Nelson in 1982, it’s your classic country heartbreak song that I think Stapleton really nails in his cover. In particular he really conveys the pain and somberness in his vocal performance. “Second One To Know” goes the opposite direction, as it’s an upbeat, foot-stomper. It’s along the lines of “Parachute” on his first album, having a rocker tone that immediately grabs your ear. But then the album goes up a notch, getting to the two highlights of the album for me.
First up is the stone-cold country tune “Up To No Good Livin’.” The song is about a once good timing man who has now settled down and married, but can’t seem to escape his past reputation as his wife continues to not trust him to relapse into those old ways. The chorus of this song is absolutely brilliant, from the poignant lyrics to Stapleton’s signature fiery delivery. It’s also great to hear his wonderful wife Morgane singing backup, giving it even more punch. Then we have the song I was most excited about hearing heading into the album and it’s lead single, “Either Way.” It delivers beyond my expectations. The song is about a relationship that has essentially been over for a while, but both have been pretending publicly nothing is wrong. This theme is particularly set up well in that Stapleton begins the song singing in a near whisper explaining the situation and then delivering an absolutely powerful vocal delivery in the chorus as the answer explaining he won’t love her either way they decide to go with their relationship. A big credit to both Stapleton and producer Dave Cobb for using these tone dynamics to really create a powerful blast of emotions in the song.
“I Was Wrong” and “Without Your Love” are straight up blues and soul more than country. It was a side I was hoping Stapleton would delve into more on this album and I’m so glad he did because it fits him just as well as country. The sonic texture created by the guitar play in “I Was Wrong” in particular just sucks you right in. The pot anthem “Them Stems” shows off a more fun side of Stapleton. If you enjoyed “Might as Well Get Stoned” you’ll enjoy this one too. More importantly we get to hear the great Mickey Raphael on harmonica deliver as always. The album closes with the haunting “Death Row.” It’s of course about a prisoner singing the blues as he awaits his imminent execution. Stapleton once again shows off his bluesy chops and the production creates an almost foggy, dark atmosphere that makes you picture yourself right in the prison.
From A Room: Volume 1 is an absolute enjoyment and a great showcasing of the talents of Chris Stapleton. It has some of the best replay value I’ve heard from a country album in recent years. Part in due to the album and the other really is just Stapleton’s innate genuineness that shines through in the music. It’s something that is lacking in most music today and why all music fans are drawn to him. The only real complaint I can have about this album is the lack of a cohesive theme throughout and maybe going back to the pot well again. Other than that this is one of the best albums you’ll hear this year and another reminder of why Stapleton is one of the best artists in music today.
Grade: Solid 9 out of 10
Album Highlights: Either Way, Up To No Good Livin’, I Was Wrong, Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning, Death Row