Thus far I have seen mixed reactions for Chris Stapleton’s new album From A Room. Perhaps the coolness factor of Stapleton has worn off for some or maybe their expectations were unrealistic and incapable of being met. In 2015 Chris Stapleton released his debut album Traveler and it was met with critical praise across the board. However, it wasn’t until Chris Stapleton performed at the CMA awards that November with Justin Timberlake that transformed him into the biggest selling star in country music by a mile. Without significant radio play and with a record label label that is completely inept Stapleton has shown no signs of slowing down. This record which is one of two expected to be released this year received little to no promotion from Mercury and didn’t even have a lead single released to radio until after the album was released. Thankfully Chris did get hourly play from IHeart radio stations once the single was released (not that he needs radio anyway) but it makes you wonder how Mercury could be doing this to their biggest star. It’s as though this was rushed out to the public with no thought behind how to market it at all.
With that all being said though, this is a fantastic album. My complaints about the album are mostly all about how this was released and the fact that it’s only a 9 song album with little new material. I actually think it’s a good idea for Chris to release 2 albums this year because there is an appetite from the fans but also because he is probably sitting on mountains of great songs that have yet to be released. But if the whole idea of this was to get a bunch of songs out to the public why would your first album in 2 years only have 9 songs?
Getting to the content of the album I am amazed that the praise for this album hasn’t been universal. Vocally we all understand how incredible Stapleton is and that is showcased on the lead single “Either Way.” I’m a little bit surprised that they picked a sad/slower tempo song as the first single but this is the best song on the album. The power of Stapleton’s voice in the chorus of this song is breathtaking. The two people in this track are in a marriage that is on it’s last legs. They fake the perfect life when they are out but in reality they are no longer in love with each other. The husband doesn’t care if his wife leaves him or stays because he won’t love her either way.
The album mostly follows these themes of sadness and despair but the tempo and subject matter change on songs like “Second One To Know” and “Them Stems.” The former is a rocking guitar driven love song whereas the latter is a song about you guessed it, pot. I dismissed this song a little bit at first even though it’s not a bad song. I just don’t really connect with these songs about drugs and drug references. It’s so overdone in country music and I’m sure Chris has better songs to get out there.
Stapleton does a remarkable job of covering Willie Nelson on “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning.” For those of you that don’t know the song, a man describes the day that his wife walked out on him. Everything that morning went wrong including his alarm going off late and spilling his coffee but, the last thing that he needed to happen was his wife leaving him. It’s another song with a simple production and it’s great to hear the harmonica in this song.
Another song on this album that I love is “Up To No Good.” Whether it be the steel guitar or the vocals, it’s great. As a married man Chris sings a lot of songs about relationships and marriage and this is one of them. The wife doesn’t trust her husband even though he has never given her a reason not to trust him. In his past he did some bad things and broke the law but when he met her he got his act together. It’s deeply upsetting to him that she doesn’t trust him after all this time.
“I Was Wrong” and “Without Your Love” are songs that show the importance of a particular love and what what would happen to him without it. The former is just an honest song about mistakes made and the man begging to take back the words he said. He regrets telling her that he didn’t love her and that he would be better off with someone else. He still loves her and he feels alone without her and he was wrong.
The album concludes with “Death Row” which feels like a detour from the rest of the album thematically. A man is waiting on death row to be murdered by the state for a crime that it’s unclear whether he committed or not. The song takes you into the mind and prison cell of this man in the final hours of his life. This song really lets Stapleon’s voice stand out maybe more than any other song and again the dialed back production helps.
This might not be the best album of the year by years end but it will damn sure be close. At the very least I can be sure that nobody will match the vocal performance that Stapleton puts on on this album. I definitely look forward volume 2 and it will be interesting to see if he sticks with the same type of songs or if he goes into other themes/sounds. As a follow up to Traveller this did not disappoint, my only wish was that there were more than 9 songs and that it was rolled out better.
Grade: A- 9/10
Best Songs: Either Way, Second One To Know, Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning