Album review: ‘Traveller’ by Chris Stapleton

It is rare for an album to shock and awe with little more than good vocals and good players, but “Traveller” does this is in spades. Stapleton has been a long time writing partner in the country and musical community as a whole, lending his songwriting talents to Brad Paisley, George Strait, Peter Frampton and even Adele. This rapport led to his ability to create his own album, which has every right to stand right alongside any of the famous juggernauts that Stapleton has helped throughout the years.

Traveller is a glorious blend of genres, working in blues, bluegrass, and even a little pop into the country groundwork, all while being palatable to the general populous. Stapleton won the 2015 Country Music Association Award for Best Male Vocalist, New Artist of the Year, and Album of the Year for Traveller. He received four Grammy Award nominations for the 2016 ceremony, including Album of the Year. Stapleton won two Grammy Awards; Best Country Album and Best Country Solo Performance

This album starts off with the title track, setting the listener up for a slow and easy country experience. The instrumentation is stellar on this track, appropriate use of drums and bass with the vocals and guitars shining brightly through. “Fire Away” come up next, exaggerating the slow and melancholy nature of the genre. The lyrics are reservedly confrontational, with the first verse saying, “Honey load up your questions/ and pick up your sticks and your stones/ and pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home/ choose the words that cut like a razor”. The gun allusions are strong, but the emotions behind the words seem to do as much as a bullet would do.

The most genre-bending song on the album is up next, titled “Tennessee Whiskey.” The only thing that is country on this track is a twanging guitar on the chorus; the rest is blues. Lyrically, this track is about an alcoholic finding love in the sweetest way that scenario can play out. The recording that is on the album is from one of Stapleton’s multiple live performances, definitively proving that his musical style can be translated from vinyl to stage. More than anything, this song makes you sway to its rock steady rhythm and its relatable comparisons.

Directly following the masterpiece of the album is the top contender for radio play, Parachute. Its quick pacing and sing-yelling of the vocals make you want nothing more but to roll down the windows and drive. The chorus starts with “You only need a roof when it’s raining/ you only need a fire when it’s cold/ you only need a drink when the whiskey / is the only thing that you have left to hold” which interplays with the rest of the song’s lyricism expertly. Whoever Stapleton is singing to, he is not in any way shape or form happy with. This classic example of a love-hate song is a clear winner for new people listening to country to be converted into believers.

The rest of the album is as good as any one of these songs individually, but so much better when their powers are combined. “Nobody to Blame” is textbook breakup lament, filled with words of property damage and a catchy chorus that repeats several times. “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” starts with just vocals and a sparse guitar, singing about a man who may have lost faith in his deity. As it turns out, he has passed away, which we find out in the last few lines of the song, making the listener experience the sudden feeling of loss along with the speaker. The album finishes up with “Sometimes I Cry,” which is full of wailing vocals and instrumentation that invokes a dark and seedy bar that has too much atmosphere.

Ending at just over an hour, this album is a fantastic example of genres bending, vocal harmonization and start instrument choices. Each song jived well with its neighbors and never got too heavy with their themes. Although love and alcohol are talked about nonstop, it never feels overdone or unnecessary. Traveller is an album that makes you rethink your musical preferences and affirms that good musicianship can change anyone’s mind.

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