EDIT: I mixed up Lee Ann Womack with LeAnn Rimes… That’s my mistake, sorry folks!
I remember reviewing Chris Stapleton before he got famous.
And yeah, I know that sounds like such a music critic hipster thing to say, but there is validity to at least mentioning it, because his rise over the past few years has been meteoric and to some extent unprecedented in modern country. Here was a guy – who thanks to a performance with Justin Timberlake – got the sort of commercial boom that led to his debut record Traveler selling millions of albums, spawning commercial copycats on reality TV shows, and helped galvanize an entire indie boom… and he did it without country radio. And sure, this happens in other genres all the time, but country has been tethered to the radio for years, the fact that Stapleton got as big as quickly as he did is nothing short of miraculous, and has been heralded by so many critics as a tremendous achievement.
And yes, the majority of this is fantastic news… but I can’t be the only one who is a little amused that the whole question of Traveler’s quality kind of got lost in the shuffle – because again, I reviewed the record months before that starmaking performance, and while it is a very good record, it’s not a great one. Sure, there were great songs on it, but it also felt uneven, overlong, and showing some of the hesitant steps that characterize a major label debut. In retrospect, a lot of critics probably wouldn’t have put together such a review if they had heard the album in the headlong rush of Stapleton’s popularity – especially nowadays – but I stand by it and it led to some interesting questions going into his follow: From A Room: Vol 1, with the second part reportedly coming later this year. Now I was excited for this record – it was reportedly leaner, I liked the song ‘Broken Halos’ released before the album – although not the single – a lot, but I had the feeling this record was going to face a very different response than Traveler. For one, Mercury Nashville has had no idea how to handle Stapleton’s insurgent popularity, so the commercial rollout of this record has been embarrassing and terrible, but for another, now that Stapleton is big, I’m curious how many indie country and mainstream fans will start to push Stapleton towards the backlash zone, even if he’s working with Dave Cobb again. So where does this album take Chris Stapleton?