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With Stapleton, it's the man and his music that counts

El Rey, Los Angeles, November 16, 2015

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Chris Stapleton arrived in Los Angeles still celebrating the high from recently winning three major awards at this year's CMA award ceremony. You'd never guess this by his stage presentation, however. He performed with a sparse band - a bassist, drummer, his wife singing harmonies and Mr. Stapleton handling all guitars. There was no hoopla. No extended introduction before he hit the stage. Just the man and his music. And the man's music is great.

Stapleton drew generously from his award winning album "Traveller," getting outlaw rowdy with the Jennings-meets-Nelson soulful stomp of "Nobody To Blame," but tamping it down considerably with the more meditative offerings, exemplified by "Was It 26."

Stapleton is not big on talking, although he did joke about the fan that brought a handmade sign by responding, "Didn't you know I'm from Kentucky and can't read?" Apparently, another fan called out for "Free Bird," to which Stapleton replied, "Ask and ye shall receive," before breaking into a few truly authentic bars of that Southern rock classic. Stapleton did perform a few full cover songs, as he gave us a jumped up version Tom Petty's "You Don't Know How It Feels." He later performed Waylon Jennings' "Amanda" as an encore, even though he had to fight through a few technical difficulties with his guitar.

Stapleton closed the night with "Sometimes I Cry." The song expresses that feeling one gets when crying is the only option. "Sometimes I cry," he sings in the lyric, "when I can't do nothing else." This might also describe music, in general, as it is many times the deepest and most honest form of human communication. And Stapleton's heartfelt communication came through loud and clear this night.

Being that it's nine members strong, the opener appeared more like The Waltons than The Walcotts. However, the Los Angeles band's Americana sound took on a particularly New Orleans-like vibe due to the inclusion of a horn section, as well as overt piano in the mix. The group was especially strong with its cover of Little Feat's "Spanish Moon." The contrast between this large ensemble and Stapleton's small combo, was striking.

One of Stapleton's best songs is called "Outlaw State of Mind," which he worked into tonight's set. And it's his outlaw state of mind that sets him apart from, and significantly above, the current pack of male country artists. Now, if his outlaw state of mind could only overtake the lowbrow bro-country state of mindlessness so prevalent these days, we'll all be the better for it.