By Jack Sharkey, May 22, 2017

 

The Universe’s cruel joke on the rest of us is we don’t have the talent and soul of Chris Stapleton. He’s an other-worldly song-writer and singer and the closest the rest of us mere mortals will ever get to Stapleton’s cosmic abilities is by listening to him. Stapleton’s follow-up to 2015’s fabulous Traveler doesn’t play it safe emotionally, but it doesn’t stray too far from what Stapleton does at his core. From A Room is both comforting and discomforting.

 

Recorded at Nashville’s famous RCA Room A with super-engineer Vance Powell at the knobs From A Room feels at once aChris Stapleton - From A Room throwback to our collective rock and roll consciousness and a vital record that could only have been made in 2017. Overall this is a really good record – we’ll wait to call it great until it has some miles on it – but what makes this record so fun to listen to is that it is a beautiful reminder of what real musical instruments actually sound like. With limited processing and overdubs, you hear the musicians, not what the engineer or producer wanted them to sound like. A great deal of credit goes to Stapleton, producer Dave Cobb and the aforementioned Powell for reminding us that real music played by real musicians is the reason we fell in love with this whole thing in the first place.

 

  • • Released: May 5, 2017
  • • Produced by: Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton
  • • Recorded and Mixed by: Vance Powell
  • • Recorded at Historic Studio A, Nashville, TN

 

If you’ve been paying even slight attention, you know who Chris Stapleton is from a broad view, but take forty or so minutes and get to know Stapleton intimately and you may just find out a little about yourself. On the two coasts, Stapleton is a “country artist,” as if that quaint moniker safely places him in the proper cubby-hole. Weaving his stories of sadness and missed opportunity with a tapestry of country, rock, and blues via a sparse production that amplifies the urgency of the songs, you’re reminded to forget the simplicity of genre-shaming and labelling and just immerse yourself in the music.

 

The record opens with Broken Halos, which is probably the second most “country” song on the record, and I was deeply reminded of Gram Parsons as I listened to it the first time. The Last Thing I Needed The First Thing This Morning is a pure country lament about a lover who drinks away a relationship. In the hands of another singer this song becomes the kind of cliché that has become so tedious in the corporate Country world, but Stapleton sings it with such heart and soul that you’re left debating whether to give the guy a call to see if he’s okay.

 

Second One To Know is a gritty rocker that revolves around a riff that would’ve been right at home at one of Rolling Stones’ 1969 Muscle Shoals sessions. The guitar sound is excellent – you can hear the room and the tubes in the amp – and the whining siren of a guitar riff at the fade-out is just glorious. Up To No Good Living calls up the memory of Gram Parsons again, and the lyric is smart-ass and poignant at the same time – the way good country songs used to be before country songwriting became a mindless effort to see who the most clever word twister is. Please Nashville, commit this to memory. Side A closes with Either Way, a simple song about the decline of a relationship, but this song stood out to me because of the beautiful recording of Stapleton’s vocals. Dry, straight, and with little or no processing, this is what the human voice sounds like when it’s in pain. Simply magnificent. Morgane Stapleton’s exquisite background vocals throughout the entire album need a special solo shout-out, she is the perfect emotional and vocal foil to her husband.

 

Chris Stapleton - Front-to-Back Albums

Side B opens with I Was Wrong, a Blues tune with a stunning recording of the main guitar and a tour de-force vocal performance. If you’re a fan of Texas Blues, this one should be part of your life’s playlist. But the song that will live on in a thousand bars for the next thirty years is Without Your Love. You might think that’s a snide remark, but songs that are covered a thousand times by bar bands good and band become what we call standards. And they earn that title for a reason. I had a little trouble hearing the kick in this song’s mix and the snare seemed a little flat, which was kind of surprising based on the rest of the production, but in the end it works. Them Stems is the kind of song rock & roll was built on – whatever your vice, when it’s gone, life is a drag. Listen closely, the snare recording here is a cool mixture of fat and hard – deep and tight at the same time, without sounding fake and processed. The album closes with Death Row a dark riff-based Blues tune which is about as desperate and lonesome a song as you’ll hear. Channeling the ghost of every outlaw country singer and blues shaman that ever walked the Earth, you’ll find yourself pulled back to your not-so-bad-after-all life only after the needle bounces off the tracking groove a few times. The perfect close to a nearly perfect record about a flawed life.   

 

I listened to this record for the first time on a late Saturday afternoon, watching thunderstorms roll in over the ridge behind the house, with a Jack Daniels in the glass. In the hills of Tennessee I was connected maybe a little closer to the material, but this Jersey boy would’ve connected just as hard to this record if I were back in the pines and flat sand woods of my home. From A Room is all about state-of-mind, forget what the labels and mainstream wants to tell you about genre, if you’re a human being living your life, this record might just be about you.

 

Listened to on a VPI Scout turntable connected via phono-pre to LS50W.