Album review: Chris Stapleton – Starting Over

Throughout my life so far, I’ve always had a visceral hatred for country music. Every time I heard it on the radio, I just wanted to stick needles through my eardrums because I knew in that moment I would be in less pain if I just couldn’t hear the vapid sounds coming out of the speakers.

As time has progressed, I’ve come to separate the sub-genres of country. Yes, country-pop still deserves to be launched into outer space. I’m talking about the Luke Bryans, Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunts of the world. PLEASE, STOP MAKING MUSIC. You guys have no redeeming qualities.

A couple of years ago, I came across the song “Tennessee Whiskey” and was blown away by this powerful and soulful voice that came from Chris Stapleton. From there on, I’ve admired almost all of his work since. If you’ve gotten a chance to listen to both volumes of From A Room, you’ll understand why I separate him from the rest of the country field. I refer to his music as country-soul because there are hints of sounds that I would hear in some of my favorite neo-soul records.

Safe to say when Starting Over dropped I was very enthusiastic and optimistic about what was to come next from Stapleton.

On the surface, literally, the album art is just white space with the album name and Chris Stapleton written out, so this most likely implied that we were going to get a simplistic record and nothing that was too heavy in its themes. While some pretentious music listeners may be frustrated by that, I think this album benefits from its simplicity and it’s honestly one of the best listens of the year and probably the best country album of the last 10 years.

Starting Over is the album you want to listen to on a long drive. It also has something for everyone with some smooth, easy-on-the-ear listens, absolute country bangers about a wild, high-speed road trip through Arkansas, and some heartfelt, emotional moments about relationships, heartbreak and the death of man’s best friend.

The title track kicks off the record and I’ve obviously loved it in the commercial it’s a part of and I loved it even more in its entirety. The guitar work is intoxicating and pristine, and Stapleton is already at peak form with his vocals.

He brings out his wild side on the next track in “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice” as he belts out how he tries to overcome vices and temptation, but sometimes falls for it even though he was told to do right from others.

Then, we get to this absolute gem of a ballad in “Cold.” This is where those soul vibes come in for me as this grand and lush piano leads us into more omnipotent Stapleton vocals as he tries to figure out why he’s been scorned by his lover. It’s so freaking good, y’all. Honestly, one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.

“Arkansas” isn’t one of my preferred cuts on this album simply for the fact that I can’t relate to being excited about a trip to Arkansas. It’s still an incredibly fun song and I think the University of Arkansas should make this one of their themes to play as a buildup prior to a sporting event or play it after a home win because Stapleton does give some love to Fayetteville and the Razorbacks on the song.

If I had to pick between the two lovey-dovey, mushy tracks on the record, I’d say “Joy Of My Life” is better than “When I’m With You.” The writing is far better on the former as the latter has the lazy line of “I feel like a dreamer that’s had all his dreams come true.” Not to say the song sucks, but it’s just too clichéd for my liking.

Stapleton fully embraces his country roots and doesn’t give a damn what you think on “Hillbilly Blood.” The draw to this track for me was the gripping hook. Once again, I’m just left in awe of the control he can have over his vocals even when he’s going to his most powerful.

For all the dog lovers out there, this next track is going to hit you hard as Stapleton details the life of his family’s late dog, Maggie. Yes, it’s impossible to not shed a tear on this track with an entire verse detailing the final day of Maggie and the final verse saying “I had a revelation as the tractor dug a hole. I can tell you right now that a dog has a soul. And I thought to myself as we buried her on the hill I never knew me a better dog and I guess I never will.” Floodgates, ladies and gentlemen.

We get more heartbreak on “Whiskey Sunrise” where Stapleton drinks himself to sleep every night to rid of the pain. Again, another banger of a hook with his powerful vocals. Do y’all sense a trend here? The man can sing his butt off.

The one dud on this album comes in the form of “Worry B Gone” for the fact that I don’t think smoking deserves positive connotations.

Fortunately, the record finishes with more highlights as “Watch You Burn” sees Stapleton envisioning the Las Vegas shooter getting his due suffering instead of taking his life. You can really tell how much that horrific event struck a chord with his fiery baritone and this rumbling guitar blaring throughout the track.

More of that beautiful country-soul appears on the penultimate track “You Should Probably Leave.” It’s a smooth track and one of those songs you can just sit back, relax and listen to on a nice, sunny day.

The final track “Nashville, TN” is one I think many can relate to. Whether you take the subject literally or envision Nashville as a toxic person you had to split from, the track is about letting go and leaving behind an aspect of your life that was once loved, but then that aspect changed and it was time to set yourself free and move on.

Starting Over is another outstanding work from Stapleton. He, along with Sturgill Simpson, are saving a dying genre. If these two didn’t exist, the world could easily do without country.

I loved this record and I hope some of the country fans who read this can understand why I believe Stapleton is putting country on his back.

Richest Tracks: “Starting Over”, “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”, “Cold”, “Joy Of My Life”, “Hillbilly Blood”, “Maggie’s Song”, “Whiskey Sunrise”, “Watch You Burn”, “You Should Probably Leave”, “Nashville, TN”

Worst Track: “Worry B Gone”

Rating: 9/10

Listen to the album

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/0sOeI7pbAmIc8aDFyvkBUW?si=isLjGplaT2KIF5kZuZmSaQ

Apple: https://music.apple.com/us/album/starting-over/1528423147

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