When word finally came down about the upcoming release of Chris Stapleton’s solo album that fans of the songwriter and former SteelDriver have been waiting so restlessly for, I had already resigned in my head to expect an album that was a little more Southern rock than country, something a little more commercial than the ideal, but something you could still get behind; something mainstream that you could still root for. This is sort of what we got with his first single as a solo artist way back in 2013 called “What Are You Listening To?” (though that feels like eons ago), and what Stapleton has been doing with his songwriting for others for the past few years.
But there’s no compromising, and no half measures here. Released ahead of the album’s May 5th street date, the title track from Traveller has just about everything you could hope to hear ahead of this highly anticipated release. It’s country, it’s real, it’s steel guitar, it’s tone. And it highlights Stapleton’s voice excellently. The album itself (produced by Dave Cobb) may still take a more Southern rock/sensible approach, but this song serves up some pretty juicy red meat for the true country crowd.
When “Traveller” starts, you almost have to ease into Stapleton’s voice, but it quickly becomes the track’s marquee asset, bolstered by a female harmony. We just don’t hear these male higher register singers in mainstream country anymore. Hell, we really don’t hear great male singers anymore, period. And when you do, the song is awful. The writing of “Traveller” finds the common “Ramblin’ Man” theme and spruces it up a bit, but the whole vibe and approach to the track works very well for Stapleton. This is his sweet spot.
Being a songwriter that is in demand is one of the shortest routes to the top of mainstream country music. With the lack of revenue from mechanical sales or album cuts, labels are relying on 360 deals and other caveats with their artists to give them a piece of the artist’s publishing and recoup production costs. As crazy as it may seem, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, even Chase Rice got their foot in the door as songwriters first, and have since moved into the performance realm. With Mercury Nashville behind Stapleton and the time taken for this project to develop, you root for a similar fate to befall him, and for a track like “Traveller” to find its way onto radio.
Is it May 5th yet?
1 3/4 of 2 Guns Up.