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Digital Subscriptions > Country Music > Feb/Mar 2019 > RECLAIMING COUMTRY’S SOUL


Chris Stapleton is the country music misit that has amassed a whopping 10 CMA Awards. CM looks at the unstoppable rise of an artist with as much Sam Cooke in his musical DNA as he has Merle Haggard
2015’s Traveller was named Album Of The Year at the 2015 CMA Awards

Four years ago, in February 2015, The New York Times wrote a tiny article about Chris Stapleton and his then-forthcoming album, Traveller. Writer Jon Caramanica was positive, but hardly went overboard with predictions of greatness: he noted that Stapleton, ex of The SteelDrivers and rock quartet The Jompson Brothers, was “a voice in search of a spotlight”. He teased Traveller as a “howling, earthy, spacious album”, where Stapleton’s voice was “liquor-thick and three-drinks limber”. So far, so enticing, but Caramanica – nor anyone else in the mainstream writing about Stapleton for that matter – predicted what would happen next.

Traveller absolutely exploded. By year’s end, the May-released album would be country’s best-seller of 2015, it was the first debut country LP to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in over four years, since American Idol winner Scotty McCreery’s Clear As Day in 2011, and it would go on to win two Grammys. Three more followed for From A Room: Volume 1 in 2018. And by the time you read this, possibly more for Volume 2.

STAPLETON’S SUCCESS HAS made him the standout country phenomenon of recent years. One only has to look at the comments on his YouTube videos to see a glut of people who say: “I don’t like country music, but…” And the exception is Stapleton.

What has Stapleton done? He’s brought soul back into country. Stapleton’s holler is as much Otis as Waylon, and that is a big part of his appeal to listeners outside of the usual circle: Chris Stapleton is a country singer who doesn’t sound like other country stars. He admits he’s not ever fitted in a convenient box, saying when Traveller was released that, “I would sing bluegrass music and I don’t fit in there; I would sing rock music and I’m probably a little too hillbilly for that. And country, I’m too much rock’n’roll for there sometimes.”

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