Chris Stapleton started mostly behind the scenes. When the Kentucky native moved to Nashville in the early 2000s, he made his initial impact by writing songs for other artists—penning hits for George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan—and playing clubs as a member of well-regarded bluegrass band the Steeldrivers. That all changed in 2015 when he released his debut solo album, “Traveller,” a collection of country-rock songs full of instantly relatable heart and grit that has since gone quadruple platinum.
Now a five-time Grammy winner, Stapleton has become a household name. He headlines stadiums and recently appeared in a Dodge commercial singing a vibey take on Al Green’s “I’m a Ram.” But massive success hasn’t altered his authentic sound—a potent style featuring earnest country songcraft delivered via the vocal pipes of a blues veteran or an R&B singer.
Throughout his four solo albums, Stapleton—bearded and brawny—has never tried to fit the Music Row mold. He’s stayed grounded in his Southern roots with help from steadfast producer Dave Cobb, and that holds true on his latest album, “Starting Over,” which was released last fall.
The album’s title track topped the Billboard country charts earlier this year. It’s an optimistic, easy-going anthem that’s appropriate for the present moment, and with a front-porch chord progression and singalong chorus, it recalls Tom Petty’s FM heyday. Much of Stapleton’s appeal comes from his ability to channel such comforting familiarity, also done on his new album via the muscular arena rock of “Arkansas,” a track co-written with Petty’s bandmate in the Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell.
To make the latest effort, Stapleton and Cobb returned to Nashville’s famed RCA Studio A, with some additional sessions down in Muscle Shoals. In addition to 11 fresh originals, Stapleton also included two covers of songs by his late songwriting hero Guy Clark, including a rowdy reboot of the trouble-shedding shuffle “Worry B Gone.” Once again, old influences resurface with fresh perspective.
Speaking of starting over, Stapleton has big plans to return to the stage this summer, re-launching his multi-act “All-American Road Show” in amphitheaters across the country. The trek, which is set to begin in July at Chicago’s famed Wrigley Field, will visit Virginia in late summer and early fall, stopping at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow on August 14 and the Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater in Virginia Beach on September 30. Stapleton is also set to perform a special home state show called “A Concert for Kentucky” at Kroger Field in Lexington, featuring support from Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow. The benefit, which supports local organizations in the Bluegrass State, was recently postponed a year to April 2022.
This breezy acoustic song, which calls to mind “Wildflowers”-era Tom Petty, is an optimistic anthem about overcoming hardship with the right partner. It’s the title track to Stapleton’s latest album, which was released last fall.
The title track from Stapleton’s quadruple-platinum solo debut is a highway meditation on drifting through life where the muse calls and reveling in the joy of discovery. With a mix of old-school country songcraft and FM-rock edge, Stapleton soulfully harmonizes with his wife Morgane, creating a timeless tune about rolling with the winds of change.
“If It Hadn’t Been for Love”
This bluesy, acoustic cut found on the Steeldrivers’ 2008 self-titled album is one of Stapleton’s best from his time with the lauded bluegrass outfit. The song found a broader audience when Adele recorded a version released as a bonus track on her mega-hit album “21.”
A true tear-jerker from the album “From A Room: Volume 1,” this ballad mourns those gone too soon and was particularly inspired by Stapleton’s Little League pal who died of cancer. In his emotive growl, both mournful and poignant, he sings of universal remembrance with the lingering lines, “They’ve all gone wherever they go/Broken halos that used to shine.”
Stapleton’s version of the old country gem “Tennessee Whiskey,” which was famously recorded by George Jones, brought him a new level of exposure, particularly after he performed the song as a rousing duet with Justin Timberlake at the Country Music Awards in 2015.