Chris Stapleton Is for Everyone on 'Higher'

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Nov 8, 2023

Chris Stapleton was writing music in Nashville decades before he ventured out on his own in 2015 with Traveller. Since then, Stapleton has emerged as the redemptive voice of modern country, saving the genre from itself in some respects to reclaim its grit, character and soul. In doing so, he's won eight Grammy Awards, 15 Country Music Association Awards, and 15 American Country Music Awards.

From singing the Super Bowl national anthem to covering Metallica to appearing with the Muppets on TV, Stapleton was seemingly everywhere in 2023. His widespread popularity speaks to his talent and gravitational pull. On his fifth album Higher — produced by Stapleton, his wife Morgane and Dave Cobb — the Kentucky-born musician follows up 2020's Starting Over with a record crafted with care and delivered by one of this generation's finest country voices.

After four records of consistent quality, it's understandable that a new one may not elicit the same excitement as the first few. But don't let yourself fall into the apathy trap — Higher may not muster the same anthemic thunder of singles like "Might as Well Get Stoned" (though "White Horse" comes close), but it illustrates Stapleton's range and willingness to colour outside the lines (see the soulful "Loving You on My Mind"). He's a little bit older and a little bit wiser, but Stapleton is still the same storyteller and he's still got things to say. 

The bedrock of the album, and arguably Stapleton's entire career, is the love he shares with Morgane. They are today's Johnny and June; a romance firmly rooted in loving respect, mutual admiration and creative energy. There are several love songs across the album's 14 tracks that speak directly to this love; The duet "It Takes a Woman" highlights the strength of a woman's love as Stapleton humbly sings, "When I'm in the dark / You are the light / When I get lost / You know right where to find me." Similarly, "Think I'm in Love with You" showcases the sheer force of true love; how it can encompass the very values and core principles by which you live your life: "You are the power over me / You are the truth that I believe / You are my life, you are my world." As always, it's the quiet confidence and unabashed assurance that rings through his voice that gives such credence to Stapleton's words. 

If you want a cowboy on a white horse riding off into the sunset, Stapleton wants you to know he's not your guy. Higher is not the album for posturing, pretension or lofty self-importance. Sure, the usual country tropes appear in the form of drinking whiskey, diminishing horizon lines and the "devil [who] don't give a damn" — but Stapleton has long cracked the code of authenticity. Country isn't for everyone, but Chris Stapleton should be. 
(Mercury Nashville)

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