Back almost three years ago I reviewed Chris Stapleton’s “From A Room Vol 2” record. “Talent like this is rare” I concluded. Fast forward to 2020, and honestly, I am in severe danger of repeating myself.
The thing is, you can take a look at Stapleton and what you see is what you get. With his beard and his cowboy hat, if he wasn’t a rock star you’d question everything you knew about music. Supremely talented, and blessed with a voice that seems hewn from the tarmac of the backroads, he’s a troubadour. That’s all there is to it.
“Starting Over” is a varied thing. 14 songs is brave too, considering people keep telling you the album is dead – and for the Spotify playlist generation this is the ideal record to experience listening to something properly, that is to say from beginning to end in one go.
Because, if you do, its pretty much irresistible.
Beginning with the title track, it is full of wanderlust, “the road rolls out like a welcome mat” is more than a first line, it is the signpost for this journey. The gorgeous harmonies of his wife, Morgane, are shot through this one too (as they are frequently) but this is just getting started.
There is a john Fogarty cover on “…Over”. It’s not “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” but that one is so infused with the spirit of Credence that it is wonderful. The one that is penned by Fogarty, “Joy Of My Life” is done with a real love and care.
The three covers here are not through a lack of material, because the lugubrious, almost jazz of “Cold” or the old time country of “When I Am With You” are amongst many that belong in the top draw.
And just occasionally, there’s a slice of rock n roll that would make the likes of Whiskey Myers and Blackberry Smoke jealous. “Arkansas” (sample line “we made a pit stop in Little Rock for some barbecue”) is so good it could be a Waylon Jennings song too, and surely The Dukes Of Hazard were having a car chase to this. They are in my dreams, anyway.
And in all seriousness, wherever this goes, it just does everything with class. “Hillbilly Blood” is unashamed, kind of primal blues, “Maggie’s Song” is a beautiful story about a family pet (and I hope its true, I really do!). “Whiskey Sunrise” is like some long lost Chris Whitley track, it is conveyed with some genuine darkness.
There’s a couple of Guy Clark songs. “Worry B. Gone” is proudly high and boogying on down, and the half whispered “Old Friends” is wistful and full of regret, it seems to me.
The Nashville Urban Choir add some real depth to “Watch You Burn”. On an album full of highlights, this is one. The discussion on the terrible shooting at the concert in Las Vegas seethes with anger.
There’s even a slow dance, an assault on the Top 40 if you like. The soulful “You Should Probably Leave” is a ballad unlike many, though and as such is in keeping with the album. An album too that finishes with the mournful lap-steel filled hymn to a lost love. “Nashville, TN” is clever and heartfelt. Three words, really, that could be the record as a whole.
Summing up a record as good as this is usually easy, but not so here. That’s because Chris Stapleton is unique. No one really has his breadth and scope, and he makes the most of everything he has. The only way I can do it is like this: I watched a documentary a year or two back about the legendary Muscle Shoals studio and all the wonderful bands that recorded there. “Starting Over” has a bit of all of them, it seems. It is a brilliant, beautiful and varied piece of work.