Published May 05, 2015Mercy, this is good. Chris Stapleton, a Kentucky-born son of a coal miner, has spent the past couple of decades dividing his time between an excellent bluegrass band called the Steeldrivers and a healthy career writing songs for people like Adele, George Strait and Darius Rucker. In a genre full of great songwriters, Stapleton has stood apart. Like Guy Clark or John Hiatt, he is a master craftsman: Stapleton can turn a phrase on a dime, build a narrative out of a few evocative lines and bleed hot blood all over the page. You want to hear what it sounds like when soulful country music is done right? This is your man. This is your album.
Blessed with a gravelly voice that hews a line through the territory occupied by folks like Gregg Allman, Bob Seger and Wilson Pickett, Stapleton's record recalls the best of 1970s southern rock. (To underline this connection, he covers the Charlie Daniels Band's "Was it 26," and owns it, telecaster blues and all.) But Traveller isn't just an exercise in classic country revivalism; like Sturgill Simpson before him (with whom he shares a producer in Dave Cobb), Stapleton has taken the old tools and crafted something that feels as new as tomorrow morning. On the album's best track, the stunning and stark "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore," Stapleton tasks a traditional melody and familiar structure to explore his father's loss of faith ("I guess he's finished talking to the Lord") while simultaneously deconstructing their fraught relationship. The last verse is perfectly calibrated, and it's emotionally devastating. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. (Mercury Nashville)