By Emily Wagner
I’ll start off by being honest. I’ve never been a huge Chris Stapleton stan.
When he busted onto the scene years ago, I wasn’t quite there. Sure his songs were good and he had an amazing voice, but it wasn’t what I was into-at least at the time. But then here comes Stapleton again, with his first new music in years, and honestly if shows were a thing this year, I couldn’t buy a ticket fast enough. Guess you could say I’m Starting Over on this Chris Stapleton love affair.
Stapleton had a plan after the gigantic success that was the 2017 two-part album From a Room: Vol 1 & 2. He was going to start writing again and have an album out in 2019. But sometimes the songs weren’t there, or at least the right songs weren’t there and once he let up a little, played some shows, stopped agonizing over the writing, the songs came, and the 14 best ones wound up on his latest album Starting Over. The title track was released as his first single. Accompanied by his best collaborator, his wife Morgane, this was the perfect song to reintroduce himself into the country charts. But it’s just the tip of this iceberg and the album only gets better.
For each song it seems as though Stapleton inhabits a character; he’s the soft and sweet lovable husband in songs such as “Joy of My Life” and “When I’m With You,” but then he is the wild, rock and roll hillbilly in “Arkansas” and “Hillbilly Blood.” Neither side comes off as unauthentic, and I think that is the brilliance that is Stapleton, his relatability, his common man persona, which is no act at all.
While no song should be skipped over, there are two songs that stopped me in my tracks, both for completely different reasons. When looking through the track list the title “Maggie’s Song” caught my eye. Knowing that wasn’t his wife’s name, I couldn’t wait to see what this song was about. Turns out, in true country music stereotype, it is a song about his beloved dog; contrary to country music stereotype, this song doesn’t deal with any cliches. It’s a sweet homage to his best friend who passed away, which Stapleton says took him 10 minutes to write. With a melody that reminds me of The Band’s “The Weight”, if you’ve ever lost a dog or any pet in your life, you’ll be wiping tears from your eyes by the last verse.
The song I believe we should all be on the look out for, and if it’s ever released as a single, will be crushing the charts and the award shows immediately is “Cold.” I’m not sure how he does it but the song is so visual and life-like. I can right away picture a dark, dreary scene, with Stapleton haunting and raspy voice almost begging for some sort of relief.
The range of the songs on the album are just as impressive as the guy singing them. You can go from “Worry B Gone” which I believe is the most 90’s sounding/Travis Tritt-like song on the album, to “Old Friends” a deeply personal song that has Stapleton doing that talking/singing combo during the verses. Don’t worry all you ‘real country’ fans, think of the phrasing more like Alabama in “Angels Among Us” and less Sam Hunt “Break Up In A Small Town.”
“Watch You Burn” will definitely be highlighted across the board as it’s a direct message to the shooter who opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. Stapleton doesn’t pull punches and blatantly opens the song with “only a coward would pick up a gun and shoot up a crowd trying to have fun…son, you’re gonna get your turn, devil gonna watch you burn.” It’s angry and revengeful and therapeutic, and I can only imagine the live crowd reaction to it once Stapleton gets back on the road.
It says a lot about Chris Stapleton as a singer and songwriter that he knew enough to push off releasing an album in 2019 that wasn’t ready, that wasn’t up to his caliber or to his fans. So instead he waited, let the songs come to him and gave country music his best and most personal stuff yet. Who could complain about that?