Chris Stapleton Salutes the Simple Life on ‘From a Room: Volume 2’

Since his debut album in 2015, Chris Stapleton has been widely considered as a man leading the resurgence in down-home country music. The unfettered guitar strumming, whiskey swilling music from the Bakersfield days. In fact, he is the modern-day Merle Haggard who back in the 1950’s denounced the glossy sounds of Nashville country for a more raw, down-to-earth version. Stapleton’s music has been received the same way. With popular, modern-day country veering more towards the pop realms with each passing year, this bearded Kentucky native is just the antithesis fans craved. For his latest project, “From A Room: Volume 2,” Stapleton sticks with what the same outlaw spirit that brought him to prominence in the first place.

After the Grammy nominated and CMA Award-winning best country album “From A Room: Volume 1,” Stapleton aims, and succeeds, in following up with all the personality and sentimentality found its predecessor. The single “Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind” gave fans one of their first samples. Amidst a ballad of self-reflection, his guitar shines both rhythmically and during the simple, yet effective electric solo. “Well I drank a lot of whiskey in my time/And I’ve held a lot of women that were fine/And I’ve made a little money, I blew every dime,” he reveals, “Tryin’ to untangle my mind.” There’s a soul to Stapleton’s voice, reminiscent of folk artists like Ray LaMontagne and Amos Lee. While these artists’ main repertoire is acoustically-centered, their soulfulness seeps out in spades. Stapleton’s wife Morgane also lends her voice here as the tune closes out with bravado and heart. The opening track finds the two sharing vocal tasks as well on a Kevin Welch cover. “Millionaire” equates love with having all the money and riches in the world. Again, Stapleton’s weighty vocals shine even brighter with the simple backing of his guitar, a bass and drum kit. This trio goes even further on “Midnight Train to Memphis” where the singer forgoes acoustics for electrics. Still focusing on the triangle of sound that is guitar-drums-bass, this hard-hitting tune reeks of soulful rock and blues. “Hard Livin’” too follows this sonic format, adding in the element of a distorting guitar pedal and some hootin’ and hollerin’ for good measure.

Like “Millionaire,” Stapleton visits his sentimental side plenty of times on other tunes as well. “Scarecrow in the Garden” touches on the story of an Irish settler attempting to make it on a West Virginia farm. When the land eventually goes sterile, the man in the story begins to question whether or not he can live with the pain of failure: “I’ve been sitting here all morning/I was sitting here all night/There’s a bible in my left hand/And a pistol in my right.” The plight of the working man is a common theme throughout the album. “A Simple Song” too points out the blue-collar struggles when it comes to job security, health and finances. In the end, though, Stapleton romanticizes the simple life: “Man, I love my life, It’s something to see/It’s the kids and the dogs, and you and me.”

Alongside artists like Margo Price, Stapleton is reviving the genre many fans have since left behind due to the glamification it has over gone in recent years. He’s seen something that many artists in the modern-era have ignored. “From a Room: Volume 2” harkens back to the good ol’ days, when drinking whiskey at a dive bar was preferred to cocktails in a red solo cup or Coronas on the beach. It’s funny how looking back on country music’s roots is what will inevitably revive it.  

From a Room: Volume 2 is available Dec. 1 on Apple Music. Stream it now at NPR: First Listen.