Universal Music Group Nashville recording artist and three-time GRAMMY nominee Chris Stapleton is an established songwriter with four No.
one hits already under his belt including the five-week No.
one "Never Wanted Nothing More" recorded by Kenny Chesney and "Love's Gonna Make it Alright" recorded by George Strait.
As a writer for Sea Gayle Music Publishing, Stapleton has penned over 170 album cuts, including songs recorded by Adele, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley, and has such notable co-writers as Vince Gill, Peter Frampton and Sheryl Crow among others.
Additionally, Stapleton has shared the stage with such respected artists as Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Marty Stuart, Emmy Lou Harris and more.
As lead vocalist for critically acclaimed bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, Stapleton earned three GRAMMY nominations including Best Bluegrass Album, as well as an International Bluegrass Music Association Award for Emerging Artist of the Year.
He's won six ASCAP Awards and has contributed to the soundtracks of several feature films including "Cars 2" and "Valentine's Day." As you might expect for an album called Traveller, Chris Stapleton's debut solo LP really got its start with a road trip. Not long after the Nashville singer-songwriter's father died in 2013, Stapleton's wife Morgane bought her husband an old Jeep in Phoenix.
She thought he could use a break and suggested they fly to Arizona and drive it home. Traveller was born along the way. "It kind of flipped a switch, if you will, as far as what I should be doing musically and where I came from musically," Stapleton says.
"My earliest memories of music are listening to it in the car with my dad.
It was outlaw country and Ray Charles and old R&B, Otis Redding, things like that.
I don't know if those are things that necessarily go together, but those things were formative for me." Much has been made about the fractured nature of modern country music with traditionalists pulling it one way, pop stars and rockers running hard the other and its gatekeepers fretting over its rhinestone-studded soul.Stapleton is the rare artist comfortable—and welcome—in any room in Nashville.
Whether it's writing program director-baiting hits for mainstream acts like George Strait and Luke Bryan or spinning barrel-aged tales of country noir as a singer and guitarist that leave your heart heavy and your knuckles scraped, Stapleton is Nashville's everyman. "I don't ever view myself as a straight country act and I don't think the straight country acts view me as a straight country act either—but I certainly belong to them," Stapleton said.
"I'm a part of their music and I'm a part of that music as a writer and as a vocalist and a guitar player.
And I certainly belong to Nashville.
No one else can claim me and I'm proud of that fact.
I'm not some transplant guy who comes to Nashville and said I'm a country songwriter.
That's kind of the hip thing to do right now.
I was slugging it out in Nashville when it wasn't the hip thing to do." The new Mercury Records Nashville album, co-produced by Dave Cobb and Stapleton, is a prism that reflects all the many facets of great country music.
It's blue collar yet aesthetically minded, world-weary yet stubbornly unyielding, both quixotic and clear-eyed, full of broken bottles and broken dreams you're not quite ready to give up. The title song opens the album and serves as a thesis statement, kicking things into an easy lope.
Along the way the characters in Stapleton's songs battle deep-seated compulsions, reel from poor decisions and look for redemption in love that always seems just out of reach.
"Turned my life into this country song and I got nobody to blame but me," he sings on "Nobody to Blame." Stapleton wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 14 songs on the album, drawing from material he'd gathered over a decade and a half spent in Nashville as a songwriter and performing alone and with groups like The SteelDrivers.
Like most road trips, the journey to Traveller took longer than expected.
The first album he turned in was shelved after a change in management at the label during a merger.
And even after he figured out the direction of the new album, unexpected and sometimes surreal delays came up. When Stapleton did finally make it to the studio, he arrived prepared.
Inspired by Cobb's sonic work with Sturgill Simpson, he brought his longtime rhythm section, bassist J.T.
Cure and drummer Derek Mixon, and hired Waylon Jennings' pedal steel player, Robby Turner, Willie Nelson's harmonica player, Mickey Raphael, and Mike Webb on piano and organ.
Morgane provided haunting harmony on several of the tracks. "I really like Dave," Stapleton said of Cobb.
"I like him as a person.
I like the way he thinks about music.
We see eye to eye on a lot of things.
That's not really an experience that I've always had in town.
So we booked the time to cut six sides.
We had nine days booked, and when we got to the end of the second day, we'd got all six done.
And so I called them up and said, ‘Why don't I keep going?'" Everything about the sessions, conducted primarily at the historic RCA Studio A in Nashville, was different than your typical Music Row experience.
The players weren't chosen from the usual pool of hired studio musicians, the songs weren't cut in pieces or culled from stacks of songwriters' demos.
Most of the tracks were recorded live with everyone in the same room.
And everyone in the room was tight. "I probably shouldn't tell anybody how we did it, but we booked the session to start at noon," Cobb said.
"We came in there and we just hung out.
People started piling in and we ordered food and started drinking a little bit and got to the moment of the night where it was just right.
All that stuff is live.
That's just him going for it." The sounds that emerge could have been teleported directly from 1976, evoking the country soul mood and vibe Stapleton remembers from those listening sessions with his father, who makes an appearance on the album in "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore," a song with a devastating emotional honesty. "That's a song I wrote long before my daddy passed away," Stapleton said.
"I went home for one of the holidays.
My entire life my dad was a pretty straight arrow, honest, hard-working guy.
My entire life my dad had said grace at every meal I ever sat down at.
This particular meal he did not and it really struck me, and that's where the title came from.
I don't know if he was tired or he forgot—he wasn't very well in his later years.
It really sent my mind spinning.
Did he have a crisis of faith or whatever it was? Now it's a little more real.
Before it was just a song.
It's fiction for me sometimes and I find out later that it wasn't because those personal things are in there whether you want it to be or not." Cobb says he and Stapleton get along because they both love Led Zeppelin as much as they do Merle Haggard, and that shows through on the album, which was recorded by Jack White associate Vance Powell.
Stapleton alternates between raucous, towering moments on his Jazzmaster guitars with a preternatural sound and gentle reflection on the acoustic guitar.
Songs like "Parachute," "Whiskey and You" and "Might as Well Get Stoned" showcase the Kentucky-born singer's all around skill, from compelling songwriting and musicianship.
He even takes on George Jones, cutting "Tennessee Whiskey" as a soul song in a voice that's otherworldly as The Possum's. "God that voice," Cobb said.
"When you hear somebody sing like that, it's reactionary.
It makes everybody in the band play different and act different.
And I think this record is really special because what you're hearing is pretty much there's no window between you and his voice.
There's no trickery, it's just a real artist performing it live."