Chris Stapleton does not pretend to be anything that he is not on his new album Starting Over. This project marks his first LP since releasing two, From A Room: Volume 1 and Volume 2, in 2017. While he has remained largely absent from the country music scene for a few years, opting to spend time with his wife, singer-songwriter Morgane, and their five children, he clearly did not let his time go to waste.
Starting Over, consisting of 14 songs that span 53 minutes, provides ample space for Stapleton to showcase his instantly recognizable voice, songwriting chops, and knack for crafting guitar solos.
The titular song and lead single, “Starting Over,” finds Stapleton full of hope and ready for his next album and adventure. With a single acoustic guitar and his wife providing backing vocals, he sings, “And honey, for once in our life / Let’s take our chances and roll the dice / I can be your lucky penny / you can be my four-leaf clover / Starting over.”
While acknowledging that life can’t always be what he wants, and this year has certainly shown that, Stapleton takes refuge in his relationship with his wife and preaches optimism about the trials and tribulations that are sure to come.
Stapleton expands more on his loving relationship with his wife Morgane, who sings on many of the tracks on this album, including “When I’m With You” and “Joy of my Life.” On the former, the Kentucky native reflects on the way his wife makes him feel, singing “I feel like a dreamer / That’s had all his dreams come true.”
“Joy of My Life” follows in the same vein and has Stapleton exclaiming “She’s sweet to me / Must be the luckiest man alive.” Accompanied by soft, sweet electric and acoustic guitars, these two tracks illustrate just how talented Stapleton is at turning age-old feelings and expressions into tender and relatable reflections on love.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Chris Stapleton record without a few gritty, electric guitar driven outlaw country songs, and “Arkansas,” the final single off the album, is one of these. This track salutes the state of Arkansas and, more generally, the country music trope of “having so much fun that it’s probably against the law.” While this lyrical sentiment adds nothing new to Stapleton’s repertoire, he supplements it with driving electric and acoustic guitars, lively riffs, and vivid imagery that all elucidate the various sights and sounds of Arkansas.
“Worry B Gone,” which is actually a cover of a Guy Clark song, also contributes to the energetic and fun-loving side of Starting Over. This track exudes a swamp blues feeling, created by multiple electric guitars, animated drums, and Stapleton’s trademark gravelly voice. He sings, “Well, everywhere I look trouble is all I see / Can’t listen to the radio and I hate the TV.” But of course, Stapleton finds his own remedy to these ailments, getting “one more puff of that worry be gone.”
“Maggie’s Song” is a requiem for Stapleton’s dog that he wrote the day after she passed away. This acoustic guitar- and piano-based track makes a fine addition to the numerous country music songs that praise the glory of dogs. The heart of any dog owner will undoubtedly feel pangs of joy and nostalgia as Stapleton sings, “Oh, run, Maggie run / Be just as free as you are wild.”
“Old Friends” is Stapleton’s nod to all of those people who support him and give him someone to call “when the house is empty / And the lights begin to fade.” With an acoustic guitar, a velvety electric guitar riff, piano, and spoken word verses, “Old Friends” is one of the quieter songs on the album, allowing Stapleton’s songwriting and genuine message to shine through.
“Nashville, TN” draws the album to a fitting conclusion. Behind an effortlessly picked acoustic guitar, a slide guitar, and piano, Stapleton sings a tribute to Nashville—the unparalleled hub of country music. Nashville is undoubtedly one of those “old friends,” as he remarks at the end of the first verse, “I was down and out, you let me in / At times you were my only friend.” While Stapleton is grateful for everything that he learned from the city, he has a family he needs to spend time with, which leaves him saying, “So long, Nashville, Tennessee.”
While it was long awaited, Starting Over delivers everything Stapleton’s fans want and more. While avoiding the fancy frills and extensive production that most country music entertains nowadays, Stapleton is much more of a throwback country music artist. At times on this record, he is even reminiscent of superstars like Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings.
Stapleton doesn’t chase pop country choruses or use bland lyrical imagery. Instead, he stays true to his roots, his sound, and his songwriting voice, creating a perfect addition to his discography and giving the country music industry a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Photo courtesy of Mercury Nashville Sound