Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Mercury Nashville
Genre(s): Country, Contemporary Country, Country-Rock
After the towering success he's attained over the past couple of years, Chris Stapleton needs no validation as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and bona fide country star. Nonetheless, From a Room, Vol. 1 -- the first of two full-length albums the hirsute Kentuckian plans to release this year -- showcases all of the good qualities that propelled Stapleton into the spotlight and solidifies his place at the forefront of current male country artists.
He may appear to be a thick-bearded Seventies outlaw-country throwback, but make no mistake: Chris Stapleton is a soul singer, with a preternaturally creaky voice that can turn wizened or brawny, full of pained howls and distended vowels. His 2015 solo debut, Traveller, transformed him from an eclectically accomplished Nashville songwriter (for acts from Alison Krauss and Ashley Monroe to Adele; those are just the A's) into an icon of artistic cred in a town starved for one. His gobsmacking Justin Timberlake duet at the 2015 Country Music Awards - which he swept, Adele-like - sealed the deal.
When his 2015 CMA wins for Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Male Vocalist of the Year turned Chris Stapleton into an overnight sensation, it raised the expectations for the sequel to his debut Traveller considerably. Released two years to the day after Traveller, From a Room, Vol. 1 surprises with its modesty. Yes, it's the first installment of a two-part album -- a move that, by definition, suggests some level of heightened ambition -- but From a Room, Vol.
As great as Chris Stapleton's debut album, Traveller, was (and still is), that 2015 record felt like the product of an artist dipping their toes into the commercial mainstream. After a decade of writing material for other people, songs that tamped down his rugged Seger-meets-Strait sound for the sake of finding a radio hit, the now 39-year-old wisely played it a little safe on his first solo effort. And it paid off with multi-platinum sales and a mantelpiece stacked with awards.
When Chris Stapleton first came onto the scene, his earthy, unaffected vocal style and no-frills blend of outlaw country and Southern soul felt like a balm for the ills of the bro-country that was beginning to go out of style. His 2015 debut, Traveller, was heralded by some as a return to real country music, or at least to a more traditional sound than what many of his peers were making. This set high expectations for his follow-up, and the most refreshing thing about From A Room: Volume 1—which was recorded at Nashville's historic RCA Studio A—is how he mostly sidesteps them.
In 1928, Jimmie Rodgers recorded a song called "T for Texas. " It was talking blues, but its use of yodelling, how it ran through the banjo, and its train themes laid the foundation for what country music would become -- if it didn't already count as country. Almost 50 years later, Tompall Glaser would release a version of the song on Wanted! The Outlaws, a compilation featuring Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and others that would cement outlaw country as a genre.