Chris Stapleton creates earnest country music with “From A Room: Volume 2”

Country music gets a bad rep.  Ask someone what type of music they listen to and the common answer is “Everything but country.”  I was definitely one of those people for a very long time as well.  I find overly produced pop country with no substance pretty vapid and, frankly, annoying.  However, when country music is done well, it is representative of a beautiful mix of emotions and music genres.  And there are a lot of modern country artists doing country music justice: Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Jason Isbell, The Drive-By Truckers, and many others are bringing a level of relatable emotion to the genre that combines elements of folk, bluegrass, and Southern rock, among others.  Leading this pack in the mainstream is Chris Stapleton, who just released his third studio album “From A Room: Volume 2”.
Stapleton is a country artist from Lexington, KY.  Originally a country music writer, he successfully started his own  solo career with his critically acclaimed  2015 album “Traveller”, which featured hit songs such as “Tennessee Whiskey”.  Stapleton immediately grabbed people’s attention due to his very personal and revealing lyrics, as well as with his ability to be an unabashed, old-fashion country musician of Garth Brooks and even Johnny Cash style.  His ability to switch from rollicking Southern rock to acoustic, down-home, emotional, ballads is unrivaled.  “From A Room: Volume 2” is his second-offering of 2017 and takes Stapleton’s already mature and deep sound and evolves it, while still offering what he’s best known for.
Stapleton has a knack for his story-telling ability in his songwriting, and nearly every song on his newest offering has some sort of narrative structure.  This is clear from the opening song “Millionaire”, a song that sounds fairly cliche at-first: A man saying how his woman’s love makes him feel like a millionaire.  However, the earnestness that Stapleton sings with about how his wife noticeably improves his life removes the cliche from the song and makes it feel real.  The fact that his real-life wife, accomplished songwriter Morgane Stapleton, is accompanying him on the song only helps to reinforce this earnestness.
While “Millionaire” opens the album with an acoustic love ballad, the next two songs on the album, “Hard Livin'” and “Scarecrow in the Garden”, are two entirely different types of songs, with the former being a Southern rocker and the latter being a story of a farm that has been in the family of Northern Irish immigrants for years.  With “Scarecrow in the Garden”, Stapleton also does what pop country music hasn’t done: He enters the realm of politics.  This is a another revelation of the new brand of country music coming to the forefront, with artists such as Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson not afraid of alienating their fanbase and getting political.  Stapleton isn’t quite as known for this, but the substance of his songs are very welcome in the country scene.
One of the things Stapleton does best is take these not as popular and alienating genres and styles of music and makes them accessible.  Even though he branches across all types of Southern influence genres, not a single song feels out of place on his album.  Towards the end of the album, there’s a one-two punch beginning with “A Simple Song”, another acoustic ballad where he is accompanied by his wife.  The song tells the story of a man who lives a very normal, simple life, but all of the joys that he finds in that life.  The repeated chorus of the song “But I love my life/Man it’s something to see/It’s the kids and the dogs and you and me/It’s the way, it’s alright/And everything goes wrong/It’s a sound of a slow simple song” makes the song one of the highlights on the album.  Another highlight follows immediately after:  The rollicking rocker that is “Midnight Train To Memphis” highlights Stapleton’s ability to have a gruff, raspy voice and his skills on the guitar.  It conjures up thoughts of the classic “Folsom Prison Blues”.  The fact that Stapleton can have two songs that are so different back-to-back, but also make them work so well, is a testament to his skill.
With “From A Room: Volume 2”, Stapleton reaffirms that he is ready to lead the new brand of country coming to the forefront of the genre: Emotional, real, and not just about trucks, women, and alcohol (although Stapleton does sing quite a bit about alcohol).  As mentioned earlier, Stapleton released “From A Room: Volume 1” earlier this year, which follows the same themes and is also highly recommended.  In a much derided genre, Chris Stapleton has released two of the best albums of the year.