Chris Stapleton’s second blues-influenced album of the year is broadly similar in mood to the first, but feels a little more consistent and cohesive. Wife Morgane Hayes Stapleton’s delicate harmonies augment Chris’s rougher yet soulful voice, and they could easily be billed as a duo rather than Chris as the solo star.
There are a couple of outside covers bookending the set. Kevin Welch wrote the opening ‘Millionaire’ around the turn of the millennium, and it is a laid back slightly loungy tune about true wealth coming from love. ‘Friendship’ is an old jazzy soul song which works well for Chris.
He wrote the remainder of the material with various partners. A couple of songs were written with Kendell Marvel. ‘Tryin’ To Untangle My Mind’ was slightly more country as done by Marvel on his own excellent album this year, with Chris’s version leaning more bluesy and feeling sleazier. The rock-edged honky tonker ‘Hard Livin’’ is on a similar theme of looking back at a life of hard drinking and wild living with some regret as he grows older.
‘Scarecrow In The Garden’, co-written with Brice Long and Matt Fleener, is a family story song about immigrants coming from Northern Ireland to farm on bad ground in West Virginia, ending with a doomladen picture in the third generation:
There’s a scarecrow in the garden
That looks like Lucifer
I’ve been readin’ Revelation
With my bare feet in the river
I know every single fencepost
Every rock that goes around
I’ve been starin’ at the red oak
Where I know they’ll lay me down
The fields ain’t what they once were
The rains just seem to flood
And I’ve been thinkin’ about that river
Wonderin’ how it turns to blood
I’ve been sittin’ here all morning
I was sittin’ here all night
There’s a Bible in my left hand
And a pistol in my right
A gentle acoustic arrangement allows the song to breathe.
Another highlight is ‘Drunkard’s Prayer’, written with Jameson Clark, an honest confessional with a stripped down acoustic arrangement:
I wish that I could go to church but I’m too ashamed of me
I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees
And I hope He’ll forgive
The things you ain’t forgot
When I get drunk and talk to God
Mike Henderson, once a band mate in the SteelDrivers, co-wrote two songs. The subdued, sad ‘Nobody’s Lonely Tonight’ is extremely good, but ‘Midnight Train To Memphis’ is raucous Southern rock which is not to my taste at all.
Morgane’s father Darrell Hayes helped Chris write ‘A Simple Song’, a weary, gentle song about a working class man’s life, suffering in hard times but satisfied by family and home.
As with the previous release, there are only 9 tracks, which is disappointing.
However, while Stapleton is certainly not traditional country, his music is head and shoulders above most of the current ‘mainstream’ crop, and it is well worth seeking out.