He’s a rough and ready honky-tonk man. And he’s back for round two
MV has always thought that if you could put together an identikit of what you’d want a country star to look like, you’d pick Steve Earle. His life is as legendary as his songs, after all, and he looks like he was born to play music.
It turns out that Earle might have a rival in the hardcore troubadour stakes, as Tennessee’s Chris Stapleton is hot on his tail. The cover, above, is almost all you need to know what this record sounds like, and here’s the good news: it is just as good as you expect.
“From A Room Vol 2” is the follow up to the first part earlier this year, released to rave reviews and some fine live performances since. Clearly the songwriter that moved to Tennessee in 2001 and picked up his first publishing deal just after still had plenty left to say.
The nine songs here are bookended here by two covers. The first, a cover of Kevin Welch’s “Millionaire” is best described with just one word. Gorgeous. Joined by his wife Morgane, it is clear that the emotion drips off the track and indeed, the record as a whole is one that isn’t fussed about the bigger picture, it deals with small town minutiae and does it brilliantly.
The last song is as simple as its title. “Friendship” is a bluesy thing shining a light on exactly what its title says. Made famous by Pops Staples, it provides an upbeat and glorious conclusion.
It is, though, the seven in-between that will see Stapleton continue to win awards and sustain a career, not yet 40 – a mere baby in country terms – he is obviously a performer and writer of consumate skill.
“Hard Livin’” is the type of thing that rouses the good ol’ boys down at the bar. “I’m a rough and ready honky tonk man”, he offers. Before the pay off, “but this hard livin’ ain’t as easy as it used to be” he says with what amounts to a wry smile. The sort of thing The Cadillac Three do, this has got “hit single” written right through.
Stapleton, though, is at his best, when he’s doing his singer/songwriter thing. “Scarecrow In The Garden” (next line: ”that looks like Lucifer”) is another that absolutely benefits from the presence of Morgane Stapleton and is probably the true highlight here.
He has a voice that screams “weather worn” too. Songs like “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight” beat with a wonderfully dark heart and is the type of song that makes complete sense when it’s you, your iPhone and the dark and you are scrolling through to find the one ex that might text you back.
A diverse collection, there is a soulful taste to “Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind” – it starts with a discussion on whiskey and women and gets bleaker from there – while the acoustic and beautifully cracked, “A Simple Song” is as resolutely blue collar as it gets. Looking on the bright side of life doesn’t get better than this.
Although it knows where its roots are, “From A Room Vol 2” is not a collection that is a slave to them. “Midnight Train To Memphis” ramps up the rock brilliantly, and “Drunkards Prayer” which follows, is perhaps the most personal of the tracks on offer.
It’s easy to see why Chris Stapleton is so in demand. Talent like this is rare. “From A Room” this might be, but its destined for very big stages worldwide.