For years Chris Stapleton has been penning hits for some of the biggest and brightest names in Nashville. There’s no doubt he’s a talented songwriter, even though there are a couple of projects he’s been a part of that were not so good in my mind. Still the anticipation has been building for years for Stapleton to release his very own album. When he announced earlier this year that it’s finally arrived, I was one of the many excited to hear it. Then I found out Dave Cobb would be producing it and I knew it would be a must listen, as everything Cobb touches is phenomenal (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Jamey Johnson, Lucette, Rival Sons). These two great talents coming together on Traveller set my expectations high without a doubt. So I eagerly jumped into this highly anticipated album. And boy does it deliver big.
The album begins with the lead single and album title track, “Traveller.” Not only is it a great single choice, but also starts the album off quite well. The song is about the rambling man who loves to travel from place to place without a clue where he wants to go next. The bluesy and traditional production makes this song immensely likable and Stapleton’s voice is perfectly suited for the song. The next track, “Fire Away,” is an emotional heartbreak ballad. Stapleton’s voice absolutely blows me away on this song. Not only does he show great range, but great emotion too. The instrumentation arrangement fits the story of the song well, especially the lingering steel guitar in the background.
Stapleton slows it down with “Tennessee Whiskey,” a smooth love ballad. One of the greatest artists of all-time, George Jones recorded this song originally and I think The Possum is smiling down on Stapleton’s cover. It tells the story of man who had an alcohol problem until the love of his life came along and saved him. He compares her to the sweetness of strawberry wine and the warmth of brandy. Stapleton has a ton of charisma to pull off a sultry, slow song like this one. “Parachute” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. Stapleton combines country and rock to produce a catchy song that makes you want to move your feet. The songwriting is good too, as it describes how a man will always be there for his woman, her parachute as he says. This song is simple, but it works brilliantly.
You should recognize the next song, “Whiskey and You,” as Tim McGraw originally recorded it on his Let It Go album in the early 2000s. Jason Eady also recorded this song on his 2014 album Daylight & Dark. I can say with confidence out of the three, Stapleton’s recording is the best. It’s not just because he wrote the song too. It’s the fact that Stapleton delivers the emotion of this song so much better than those two. He does this by stripping this song down completely and only using an acoustic guitar for instrumentation, allowing his voice to tell the story of the song. It’s raw and grips your attention from start to finish. Stapleton absolutely nails this song. The more up beat “Nobody To Blame” follows. It’s about a man who just broke up with his woman and she’s angry as hell at him. So she’s proceeded to destroy all of his stuff, which the man takes full responsibility for because he admits it was his fault. How refreshing is it to hear this in a song? It’s quite the opposite of a song like “Redneck Crazy.” Again I’m impressed by Stapleton’s vocals and the harmonica interludes throughout the song give it an extra edge to make it stand out.
The mandolin plays in (and throughout) “More of You,” a sweet love song that I’m sure will be popular in country dance halls and wedding receptions. Stapleton sings with his wife Morgane Stapleton, who has a beautiful voice of her own. To me it adds another layer of sentimentality to a song that’s already a fantastic love song. Everything about this song works together so damn well. “When The Stars Come Out” is a dreamy tune about heading out west to Los Angeles to chase dreams. It’s about how you look up at the stars and wonder if you’ll ever reach your goals. The songwriting is a little lighter on this than the rest of the album, but the pedal steel guitar and piano lurking throughout more than make up for it.
Just like “Whiskey and You,” “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” is a stripped down and emotional song. It’s about a man realizing his dad no longer prays anymore and paints the picture that his dad has given up hope. Halfway through the song when he’s not getting along with his dad, when he lays down at night he hears his dad praying for him. He realizes his dad does care, but by the end of the song his dad has died and realizes he’s finally walking with the Lord. I don’t think I can properly explain how great this song is and I suggest you listen for yourself. Tell me again why it took so long for an album from Stapleton? The rollicking “Might As Well Get Stoned” shifts the mood to uncaring resignation. The man in the song is alone and is out of whiskey, so he says screw it and gets stoned. The heavy steel guitar licks and Stapleton’s passionate cry in the bridge is the climax of the song and really grabs the listener’s attention. The majority of songs about getting stoned are dumb and completely pointless, but this is an exception. I like to think of this as a drinking song with the drinks being replaced with weed. And the man in the song is clearly smoking out of being despair, not joy. Stapleton put a fresh spin on a theme that is overwrought with clichés.
“Was It 26” feels like a perfect follow-up to “Might As Well Get Stoned.” The Charlie Daniels Band originally recorded the song and this is only one of two songs on the album that Stapleton didn’t help write. It’s about a man reflecting back on his wild year when he was 25 or 26. He can’t decide which year because they blend together in his mind. He doesn’t seem to regret it, but he would also like another crack at that age (whatever which one it is). It comes off as a warning to younger listeners and perhaps relatable for older listeners. Regardless it tells a great story. Oh and Stapleton’s voice is amazing once again. Stapleton sings about the crushing reality of being a musician traveling on the road all of the time in “The Devil Named Music.” He’s sometime drunk, stoned and most of all he feels alone. He misses his daughter and wife dearly, but he knows the devil that is music has his life. That’s one of the things we never think about as fans when listening to our favorite music. The amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into making such great music is huge.
“Outlaw State of Mind” puts you in a…well outlaw state of mind. From the bellow of the guitar to the vocals it frames the theme of the song well. The harmonica solo in the bridge is fantastic too. Really this was song to show off the instrumentation that graces the album throughout, something I can certainly appreciate. The final song on Traveller is “Sometimes I Cry,” a song I could easily imagine being played in a smoky barroom in New Orleans. It’s a heartbreak song where Stapleton just lets it all hang out. He sings his ass off and the guitar play is equally impressive. Oh and this was recorded live in front of an audience. I mean what else can I say? This is another great track amongst many throughout this album.
The hype was high heading into Chris Stapleton’s album. Not only did he meet the hype, he surpassed it with Traveller. I don’t think I could ask anymore from a country album than what I hear on this album. It has everything a country music fan should want in their music. What impressed me the most out of all is Stapleton’s voice. Holy shit I did not expect him to blow me away so much vocally. He’s easily one of the best in country music today. The songwriting is top-notch, but we knew that already. The instrumentation and production is spotless, as once again Dave Cobb is in top form. I have no complaints with this album, as Stapleton is a visionary. Traveller is a must-own and is easily one of the top candidates for Country Perspective’s 2015 Album of the Year.