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Chris Stapleton

From A Room: Volume 2 – 2017 (Mercury Nashville)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Chris Stapleton

There is no bigger artist in country music today, perhaps even in American music, than Chris Stapleton. His appeal reaches beyond just the commercial country fans for his gritty bluesy approach. 2015's "Traveller" set a high bar, which was met by this year's release of "From A Room: Volume 1," which won Album of the Year in the 51st CMA Awards. Stapleton also garnered the Male Vocalist of the Year for his second time. Now seven months after that release, "From A Room: Volume 2" is here to carry on this immense momentum.

Stapleton returns with ace producer Dave Cobb and the same cast of backing musicians. In addition to Stapleton on vocals and electric guitar, Cobb Is on acoustic guitar, wife Morgane is on harmony vocals joining his long-time rhythm duo of J.T. Cure on bass and Derek Mixon on drums.

Unlike its predecessor where Stapleton did most of his co-writes with his SteelDrivers bandmate Mike Henderson, there are several involved in these seven. Henderson is aboard for just two. The blues in both Stapleton's voice and guitar work shine most prominently in those two, "Nobody's Lonely Tonight" and the barn burning, power chord filled "Midnight Train to Memphis." In addition to the co-writes, Stapleton covers Kevin Welch's "Millionaire" and one closely associated with Pops Staples, "Friendship."

Common threads to "Volume I" and "Traveller" include the lament of loss of youthful carefree lifestyle in "Hard Livin','' issues of self-medication in "Tryin' To Untangle My Mind," and the shame of driving a loved one away in the album's sparest cut, "Drunkard's Prayer." Yet, "Volume 2" is slightly more emotionally centered and carries a bit more energy. Stapleton seems focused on meaningful relationships. For example, he sings in "A Simple Song" "It's the kids and the dogs and you and me." Material things matter more in "Millionaire," "Friendship" and "Nobody's Lonely Tonight" as well. It's not all sugary sweet though as he talks about persevering through the despair of the failing family farm in "Scarecrow In The Garden" (a bottle in my left hand and a pistol in my right").

His stories and themes have broad appeal. His music, like the best of traditional country or blues, is simple and unadorned, a perfect accompaniment for his vocals, so strong and heartfelt that loss comes across convincingly and the dangers of hard living seem to be honest confessions. The well for this material is endlessly deep.