Album Review: Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 1

In a year of country comebacks, there probably hasn't been a more highly anticipated album than Chris Stapleton's sophomore set. Traveller was a huge hit for him - helped by his 2015 CMA Awards performance of 'Tennessee Whiskey' - so people were undoubtedly keen to see what he'd do next. The answer is: release two albums recorded in RCA Studio A in Nashville, with Dave Cobb (who also produced Traveller) at the controls. The first of these, From A Room: Volume 1, came out this week and so I sat down to listen to it with high hopes, but also with a few nerves. Could it live up to the brilliance of Stapleton's debut? We're about to find out...

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1: 'Broken Halos'
We're launched straight into the record - one chord and then you're hit by the emotion in Stapleton's voice, which contrasts well with the simple-stripped back guitar and steady rhythmic drums that reminded me of 'Traveller'. The lack of flashy production means the message of the lyrics comes through really strongly without being overshadowed. Morganne's background vocals throughout also sound great and add a nice extra layer.

2: 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'
This is a cover of a Willie Nelson song but I honestly wouldn't have known as Chris really puts his own stamp on it. I love the storytelling in the lyrics as it builds up from spilt coffee and rubbish not being picked up to the big event of Stapleton's lover leaving and then heaps insult on injury. The air of resignation and restraint in his voice also works as a nice contrast to the typical treatment of this theme in country music and I like the sparse guitar and harmonica too.

3: 'Second One To Know'
'Parachute' is one of my favourite songs on Traveller and this rocky uptempo number with thumping drums took me right back to it. Sticking with the theme of vanquished love, Chris shows off the raw power in his voice whilst keeping control over it, and the simple production allows his vocal to lead the song. Throw in that seriously impressive guitar outro and I can see this going down a storm when it's played live.

4: 'Up To No Good Livin''
One of the things I like most about the album is the blend of different styles; this song switches back again to a laid-back vibe, with an almost surf music feel in the intro. With a story about a man who changes his wild ways yet is disbelieved by his wife, Stapleton really shows off his songwriting skills - I particularly love the line 'they called me the Picasso of painting the town'. His voice retains that gravelly tone but with a sense he could let go any time, the resigned air gives the song much more of an impact.

5: 'Either Way'
This is the first single from the record and was originally released by Lee Ann Womack, but after hearing this I can't imagine anyone else singing this - it's another 'Whiskey And You' moment. There's a lot of twang in the guitar and the vocal is very subdued, almost inaudible in parts. That creates a really strong sense of longing, with the almost-howl at the end of each line of the chorus really expressing his inner pain. I also felt that the lyrics and their theme of a relationship falling apart reminded me of Kelleigh Bannen's song 'Church Clothes', which I really like. It's simple, heartbreaking, utterly gorgeous and the best song on the album.

6: 'I Was Wrong'
We return to the chilled-out vibe from before, but with a slightly more ominous feeling to it. As Stapleton mourns a lost love and reflects on his wrongs, the emotional vocal is delivered brilliantly - building to a wailing roar at the end of the chorus and then dropping back down. That knowing when to let go and when to pull back is a consistent element of the album and is evidence of two masters at work. I really liked the slightly Eagles-esque guitar riff after the first chorus too.

7: 'Without Your Love'
Continuing the darker feeling of the second half of the album, this is a song for driving down a lonesome highway. The personal lyrics create a sense of building towards something, yet Stapleton's vocal is a lot more pulled back, which I like a lot - again, this sense of contrast between the controlled public persona and the emotional, wounded private pain is very strong throughout the whole album.

8: 'Them Stems'
Switching it up yet again, this song has a much more uptempo rollicking feel that put me in mind of Brothers Osborne's 'Greener Pastures'. Stapleton's vocal has a lot more drawl in it, adding to the traditional feel; there's almost a sense that this could be a lost Willie Nelson song. I like the mix of the bleak lyrics with the more carefree melody too. This is another one I can see getting a great response live (perhaps at C2C 2018?). It's not my favourite song on the album but I like having something a bit different.

9: 'Death Row'
The heavy, foreboding intro creates a sense that this is going to be a haunting song, and it definitely sticks with you even after the record ends. Stapleton's drawn-out vocals, which start off powerful and then become more subdued, contrast the other songs on the album and work very well with the theme of being ground down and oppressed by the monotony of imprisonment, along with the sparse instrumentation. It's a great finish to the set and a fine showcase for his myriad talents.

Overall: Any fears I had about Chris Stapleton's second record failing to live up to his first are completely unfounded. Like Traveller, From A Room: Volume 1 doesn't go for the bells-and-whistles approach; instead, most of the songs act as great showcases for Stapleton's guitar playing and astounding voice. I was also really impressed by the restraint exercised throughout - you can still feel the emotion and pain in his voice but only letting rip at key points gives it far more impact. It's all the things I loved about his first record but made even better. Volume 2 can't come soon enough now - bring on November!

The good:
Stapleton's voice is allowed to shine; great storytelling in the lyrics; good mix of styles
The bad: Nothing
Rating: 5/5
Top tracks: 'Second One To Know'; 'Broken Halos'; 'Either Way'; 'I Was Wrong'; 'Without Your Love'; 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'

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