If your taste in music revolves around the folk-country scene, then you're well-aware of Chris Stapleton by now. If not, Traveller is the album to experience to understand the roots of the genre at its finest. No stranger to the craft, Stapleton's claim to fame began with songwriting for other major market artists and touring as lead guitar and vocals for the bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers. With emotional tracks as "Whiskey and You" and "Fire Away," Stapleton's soulful, resonating voice captures the raw and relatable sentiments of a love in turmoil. Earning his fifth Academy of Country Music awards and two for the Country Music Association, this two-time Grammy winner has received endless, critical praise for his turn as a solo act. There's much expectation from critics and fans alike; when the going gets tough, Chris Stapleton will write a future, hit song about it.
Like many country troubadours, Chris Stapleton cut his teeth as a songwriter in Nashville, churning out tunes that wound up hits in the hands of others. Kenny Chesney brought "Never Wanted Anything More" to number one and Darius Rucker had a hit with "Come Back Song," but those associations suggest Stapleton would toe a mainstream line when he recorded his 2015 debut, Traveller. This new release, however, suggests something rougher and rowdier -- an Eric Church without a metallic fixation or a Sturgill Simpson stripped of arty psychedelic affectations. Something closer to a Jamey Johnson, in other words, but where Johnson often seems weighed down by the mantle of a latter-day outlaw, Stapleton is rather lithe as he slides between all manners of southern styles. Some of this smoothness derives from Stapleton's supple singing. As the rare songwriter-for-hire who also has considerable performance chops, Stapleton is sensitive to the needs of an individual song, something that is evident when he's covering "Tennessee Whiskey" -- a Dean Dillon & Linda Hargrove tune popularized by George Jones and David Allan Coe in the early '80s -- lending the composition a welcome smolder, but the strength of Traveller lies in how he can similarly modulate the execution of his originals. He has a variety of songs here, too, casually switching gears between bluegrass waltz, Southern rockers, crunching blues, soulful slow-burners, and swaggering outlaw anthems -- every one of them belonging to a tradition, but none sounding musty due to Stapleton's casualness. Never once does he belabor his range, nor does he emphasize the sharply sculpted songs. Everything flows naturally, and that ease is so alluring upon the first spin of Traveller that it's not until repeated visits that the depth of the album becomes apparent. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi