Chris Stapleton – From A Room: Volume 2
Decca – 1 December 2017
Winner of the CMA award for Best Male Vocalist for the third year in succession, Chris Stapleton’s the leading light of the new generation of good ol’ Southern country boys. With From A Room: Volume 1 having just walked away with the Best Album award, he’s back with a second collection of songs from his songwriting and performance archive. The title, as with its predecessor, refers to Nashville’s RCA Studio A where everything was laid down in company with producer Dave Cobb on acoustic guitar band members J.T. Cure on bass, drummer Derek Mixon and Stapleton’s wife Morgane on harmony.
The album’s bookended by two non-originals, opening with a heartland country rock version of Kevin Welch’s Millionaire and closing with Friendship, a Homer Banks/Lester Snell country soul obscurity recorded by Pop Staples shortly before his death.
The self-penned material kicks off in a Southern stomp a la Waylon Jennings with some throaty guitar riffery on Hard Livin’, a mood that equally informs Midnight Train To Memphis, a prison number that dates back to his former bluegrass outfit The SteelDrivers, here given a muscular, steamrollering rock treatment with a huge scratchy guitar boogie riff.
Elsewhere, he’s more restrained, Nobody’s Lonely Tonight a slow burn soulful ballad in the Penn-Oldham mode co-written with fellow ex-SteelDriver Mike Henderson, while, a collaboration with Darrell Hayes, A Simple Song is an intimate acoustic storysong about a recently laid off factory worker fallen on hard times but still finding hope and salvation in “a kid and a dog and you and me.”
Broken hearts and too many bottles of booze are country staples, and Stapleton works them with the best. The band lay down a mid-tempo barroom blues groove behind Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind, the narrator lamenting any number of bad decisions and choices that, lonesome and stoned, he’s now “so far down the Devil’s looking high”, Stapleton giving it a soulful slouch and some gutsy guitar. By contrast, Drunkard’s Prayer strips it right back for a solo rendition of a Willie Nelson flavoured song about a broken man, drowning his pain in booze, too ashamed to go to church, as, getting drunk and talking to God, he sings “I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees.”
While Drunkard’s Prayer is almost the best song here, but it slips into second place behind Scarecrow In The Garden, a Celtic-tinted story about an Irish emigrant seeking his fortune as a farmer, only for the green fields to eventually turn black, despair, setting in as the song takes on a Southern gothic sensibility summoning up Revelations imagery as its ends with the powerful and evocative line “I was sitting here all night, with a Bible in my left hand and a pistol in my right.” Reckon they might as well start engraving that CMA 2018 Album of the Year award now.