Acoustic Music, Bluegrass Music, Saturday Soundtrack
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Saturday Soundtrack: The acoustic side of Chris Stapleton

Chris Stapleton - Traveller

Readers who follow country music know the singer, songwriter, and guitarist Chris Stapleton. But I enjoy seeing those from other genres hearing his “brown liquor” voice for the first time and recognizing both a unique talent and a kindred spirit with whatever type of music they love.*

Born into a Kentucky coal-mining family, Stapleton absorbed a variety of musical influences growing up, including from the incomparable Aretha Franklin who he described as “the greatest singer that ever lived.” That tells you right from the beginning that his tastes are excellent and his standards high. Stapleton toiled in the Nashville song-writing business for more than a decade while also fronting one of my favorite bluegrass bands, The SteelDrivers, from 2007 to 2010. In 2015 he broke through as a solo performer with the award-winning album Traveller, was featured at the 2015 CMA Awards show in a breakout live performance with Justin Timberlake, and hasn’t looked back.

Stapleton’s voice is a treasure, but his songwriting and guitar playing are also top notch. In this edition of the Saturday Soundtrack, I want to focus on the acoustic side of his work, where all three elements of this unique performer shine.

We will begin with a SteelDrivers favorite, If It Hadn’t Been for Love, pushed along by Stapleton’s urgent vocals and the terrific fiddle and harmonies of Tammy Rogers. And yes, this is the tune Adele covered in her Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD. 

Drinking songs have always been a core part of the storytelling appeal of bluegrass and country music, and Stapleton’s time with The SteelDrivers produced several good ones, none better than Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey (as in “Drinkin’ dark whiskey / tellin’ white lies / one leads to another / on a Saturday night.”)

When Stapleton went solo, his wife Morgane joined him as the harmony singer, and their voices are beautiful together. This live version of Fire Away from Traveller is a great acoustic version featuring just Chris and Morgane and a guitar.

NPR’s Tiny Desk concert captured them that same year in an intimate acoustic setting where Stapleton featured two of his electric hits, When the Stars Come Out and More of You in acoustic versions. These are really lovely, and the interplay of the Stapletons’ voices is pure country gold. More of You may be close to a perfect country love song.

I’ll end with what may be my favorite Chris Stapleton tune, Whiskey and You. His voice is perfect for this story of loss and pain. The guitar accompaniment is simple yet haunting. And the writing by Stapleton doesn’t get any better.

There’s a bottle on the dresser by your ring

And it’s empty so right now I don’t feel a thing

And I’ll be hurting when I wake up on the floor

But I’ll be over it by noon

That’s the difference between whiskey and you

Come tomorrow I can walk in any store

It ain’t a problem they’ll always sell me more

But your forgiveness

Well that’s something I can’t buy

There ain’t a thing that I can do

That’s the difference between whiskey and you

And then there’s the killer line.

I’ve got a problem but it ain’t like what you think

I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome cause I drink

Followed by the aching chorus.

One’s the devil one keeps driving me insane

At times I wonder if they ain’t both the same

But one’s a liar that helps to hide me from my pain

And one’s the long gone bitter truth

That’s the difference between whiskey and you

Does it get any more basic than love, loss, soulful reflection, and hopeful redemption — all wrapped up in that voice? Enjoy.

More to come…

DJB

*Search “Chris Stapleton Reaction Tennessee Whiskey” in You Tube and see all the different singers, vocal coaches, and commentators from hip hop to r&b to soul share their first reactions to hearing Stapleton sing, especially from his live performances. Those reactions are priceless.

by

I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.

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