Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
Chris Stapleton is one of those artists you've heard without ever realizing it. That's because of his acclaim as a songwriter with such hits as Luke Bryan's "Drink a Beer," Josh Turner's "Your Man," Darius Rucker's "Come Back Song" and Kenny Chesney's "Never Wanted Nothing More." He also had a successful stint as lead singer of the driving bluegrass band The SteelDrivers (Adele recorded one of their songs, which he co-wrote as well, "If It Hadn't Been For Love").
And that set the stage for his solo debut. Stapleton's calling card is his voice. He has a lot of soul in that vocal delivery, something that has stood him well over time. Put him in the same vocal arena as Travis Tritt. Stapleton's not a one tricky pony as he also can wear his heart on his sleeve (the slow, mournful "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore" with spare drumming and a long slow, sad harp break, later replaced by accordion, or "The Devil Named Music" where he sings of life on the road away from family. When he sings "I miss my daughter/I miss my wife/but the devil named music has taken my life," the sense of regret overtakes his chosen profession).
Stapleton wraps his slightly scuffed up voice around a few different styles as he follows up "Daddy" with the deliberate blues rock of "Might As Well Get Stoned" with a lot of sharp guitar playing that sounds like something the Rolling Stones could have recorded to the dark blues of the closing "Sometimes I Cry." Stapleton also turns in a credible take on "Tennessee Whiskey," a 1983 hit for George Jones.
Drinking is never far from the surface of other songs either - this is country music after all, right? "Whiskey And You" and "Was It 26" also incorporate imbibing.
Not surprisingly, Stapleton doesn't go for any quick radio fixes with songs all but guaranteed to land on commercial radio. Perhaps credit producer Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) for that. What Stapleton offers on "Traveler," instead, are songs that allow him to be heard.