In just two short years, Chris Stapleton has quickly become one of country music’s biggest stars. Traveller (2015) proved to be his big breakthrough, boasting tracks like “Tennessee Whiskey” and “Parachute”, songs that embodied his free spirit and were also wildly successful on a commercial level. His second studio album marks a significant artistic progression; From A Room: Volume 1 is bolder, more refined and it might be one of the better releases of 2017.
This album has continued Stapleton’s rise to mainstream fame, going gold in a little over a month following its May release. Despite all the accolades, it’s refreshing to see someone as high profile as him remain true to his sound, given the context of the current country music landscape. From A Room is impressive from front to back, with Stapleton’s voice at the center of attention, but his songwriting skills and ear for beautiful instrumentation deserve just as much credit.
The album gets off to a strong start after the sacred, hymn-like “Broken Halos” and the rocking “Second One to Know”. Stapleton easily wins his audience over when he belts lines in his signature howl, like “don’t go looking for the reasons, don’t go asking Jesus why,” on the intro. “Them Stems” is a classic, poor man’s weed-tokin’ anthem that recalls Willie Nelson and some of old country’s favorite stoners.
In spite of its brevity, the album still brings a lot of variety to the table, like the lazy and witty, “Up to No Good Livin'” and the blues inspired “I Was Wrong”. The closing track “Death Row” is a slow, outlaw waltz that again showcases some soulful vocals.
The lyrics here are what truly makes this album compelling to me. A lot of the topics are based on your same old country tales, but each song is written cleverly, wasting few words. Production wise, I definitely prefer the upbeat, guitar driven songs for their ‘full’ sound, but the slow jams here make for the perfect company on any given lonely day. They are also when Stapleton tends to flex his vocal muscles a little extra, like on the depressing lead single “Either Way”.
It’s fitting that the album was recorded at a legendary Nashville studio, because it goes to show you that there’s still talented country artists out there that are capable of making hit records. My only gripe about this album is that it’s fairly short, but reports say that Volume 2 is due before this year’s end. If it’s as good as Volume 1, it would be a greatly appreciated gift.
Side note – how sick is the cover art??