Following his first three highly lauded albums, country singer Chris Stapleton has released his fourth studio album, “Starting Over.”
Stapleton has firmly established himself as a genius songwriter as he fuses twangy, old-school country tunes with the lilting, lyrical caress of an R&B crooner. Although fans have often hailed Stapleton’s traditional ambience as a homecoming of sorts for country music, Stapleton’s immense success can be traced back to his inherent originality.
Free from any self-inflicted sense of responsibility towards the genre he works within, “Starting Over” is a prime example of Stapleton’s signature free-spiritedness as a musician. The album is a cozy mix of genuine stories suffused with a deeply personal feeling as a result of Stapleton’s substantial involvement with the songwriting.
The album begins with a recognition of newfound happiness on the title track “Starting Over,” accompanied by upbeat guitar strums. Acknowledging neither the malaise that lies behind Stapleton, or the potential struggle that might be ahead, “Starting Over” simply accepts the rough-and-tumble journey of life, acknowledging how much smoother it is with the addition of a loving partner.
Stapleton leans further into this theme of domestic joy in “Maggie’s Song,” a joyful, yet sad reflection of a dog that Stapleton and his wife, Morgane, rescued as a puppy. Morgane lends her vocals to this track — a fitting move for a song about the simple, yet convoluted joys of home life.
On “Arkansas,” Stapleton proceeds in the same vein as previous semi-autobiographical, Southern-rock songs like “Outlaw State of Mind” from his debut record “Traveller,” spinning a vivid tale of the challenge and redemption that can be found on the road.
Stapleton possesses a keen sense of musicality and sounds just as natural on the formal piano ballad “Cold” as he does on the groovy, swaying beat of “You Should Probably Leave.” However, his interpretations of other artists’ work are arguably some of the best songs on his record as he introduces a heavy, foot-stomping beat into Guy Clark’s “Worry Be Gone” and breathes a more tangible, slightly bluesy essence into Clark’s sincere, tributary ballad “Old Friends.”
Likewise, on the cover of the obscure John Fogerty track “Joy Of My Life,” Stapleton switches out a kick drum and twangy banjo for the softer, more intimate blend of acoustic and electric guitar, allowing the song’s confidentiality to shine through.
Stapleton revisits many of his old musical haunts throughout “Starting Over,” yet his songwriting skills reach new levels when he dares to directly address the current moment. On the track “Watch You Burn,” Stapleton’s gravelly voice addresses the 2017 Las Vegas shooting with a straightforward sense of rage.
Historically, Stapleton had been cautious of becoming too personal, but he still managed to present plenty of fresh stories to his listeners. On “Starting Over,” Stapleton allows his listeners a glimpse into his private convictions for the first time, offering music-lovers a glimpse of future possibilities for the quadruple-platinum songwriter.