This is a great album. Chris Stapleton is an established Nashville songwriter and has played in a few raucous bands - so I have learned - and listening to this album entirely fresh from knowing that history, this experience and journey is immediately evident. First and foremost is the voice. There is plenty of effective rasp and gravel out there across all kinds of genres, but Stapleton's Country grit is a fine maturity, rather like the whiskey he sings about at times [for example, the beautifully sweet'n'caustic solo with acoustic guitar take on the song Whiskey and You he co-wrote and which was recorded by Tim McGraw in 2007]. An even more potent example of this emotive vocal is another whiskey-burnished song is the cover of the Dean Dillon/Linda Hargrove Tennessee Whiskey where Stapleton's Country rawhide voice is smoothed at times by a sweetly soul lilt.
Elsewhere there are self-penned Country troopers like Nobody to Blame that reminds of the rock of a Travis Tritt, to the country-folk and mandolin led More of You with a vocal echo of the great Chris Smither. There is a touching tribute to his father who passed in 2013 and had been a huge personal support, Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore, and this simple Country ballad is sung with a restrained vocal emotion that captures his love and respect perfectly. This is followed by a more brazen if chugging country rocker, Might as Well Get Stoned [a la Joe South's Games People Play] where there is more whiskey in the mention but not in the narrative: and since my whiskey's gone, I might as well get stoned - gone and stoned rhymed in the way only a Country vernacular can. Penultimate Outlaw State of Mind reflects the excellence of how Stapleton does marry the generic with the contemporary in his songwriting, the stoned again reference - I was higher than a Georgia pine - taking us lyrically beyond the peon of a Muskogee, whilst closer Sometimes I Cry is a startling live blues ballad ending the album on Stapleton's emotive vocal depth and range. Powerful stuff.