Country music megastar Chris Stapleton will be releasing his third solo album, From A Room: Volume 2 this Friday, Dec. 1. The nine-track album is the second half of Stapleton's larger From A Room project, an homage to RCA's Studio A, where Stapleton and longtime collaborator Dave Cobb have recorded Volume 1, as well as Stapleton's debut, Traveller.
While certainly an homage to classic country, rootsy blues and southern rock, From A Room isn't just recycled commentary and the reshuffling of the deck by Stapleton and company. It's Stapleton diving further into the American songbook. He delivers radio-friendly anthems that are felt by casual and die-hard fans alike. In several ways, Volume 2 isn't just a sequel. At times, it's a broken mirror that reflects the same story, but from a different point of view or vantage point.
Stapleton's songbook revolves heavily around simple, easily digested storytelling, relatable parables and a boundless list of collaborating songwriters. Here's how the tracks of From A Room: Volume 2 relate to Stapleton's catalog of music.
- "Millionaire" kicks off Volume 2 with a vintage country trope, how "love is more precious than gold." It's as classic to country storytelling as anything recorded in RCA's Studio A. It's straightforward in both its lyrics and sonically. It's prime radio gold.
- "Millionaire" was originally written by Kevin Welch. While an accomplished songwriter, Stapleton has never shied away from including covers. The single "Tennessee Whiskey," perhaps Stapleton's breakout moment on Traveller, was written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove. These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to covers too.
2. "Hard Livin'"
- "Hard Livin'" feels like a prequel of sorts to Volume 1's "Up To No Good Livin'." On "Hard Livin'," Stapleton goes on about how the rambling days of his youth are catching up to him as he grows older. It's his most "outlaw" moment on the album and feels right at home next to Traveller's set of wayfaring songs "The Devil Named Music," "Outlaw State of Mind" and "Traveller."
- "Hard Livin'" was written with long-time Stapleton collaborator and veteran songwriter Kendall Marvel. On the podcast "Walking The Floor" with Chris Shiflett, Marvel said he's written over 60 songs with Stapleton over the years. Blake Shelton's "Never Lovin' You" was written by Marvel and Stapleton. Along with songwriter Tim James, Stapleton and Marvel wrote Josh Turner's "Lovin' You On My Mind" and "Either Way," which appeared on Volume 1 and Lee Ann Womack's Call Me Crazy. "Tryin' To Untangle My Mind" was also written by Stapleton, Marvel and Jaron Boyer.
3. "Scarecrow In The Garden"
- Stapleton does his best storytelling with the dark and haunting "Scarecrow In The Garden." It's the tale of Irish immigrants who settle rich and fertile lands in West Virginia. After two decades worth of profit, the extended family begins moving away leaving only the lone grandson to tend the fading fields. Despite the strong family ties, Stapleton's narrator feels burdened by the land. There's a strong sense of abandonment felt by the narrator--not only by family but also by God. The final lines of "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" leaves the story open-ended. It's Stapleton at his most despondent, conflicted and macabre. Should he restore his faith in God or end his own life?
- In many ways, "Scarecrow In The Garden" is a callback to Stapleton's Appalachian roots. It's not quite Kentucky bluegrass but is reminiscent of Stapleton's time in the bluegrass band The SteelDrivers. Stapleton's storytelling is as cautionary as it is thought-provoking with its' inside look at the thoughts of a broken man.
4. "Nobody's Lonely Tonight"
- "Nobody's Lonely Tonight" was written with former SteelDrivers bandmate Mike Henderson. Henderson is perhaps Stapleton's greatest co-writing collaborator to date. The duo co-wrote the vast majority of The SteelDrivers' first two albums with highlights such as "If It Hadn't Been For Love," "East Kentucky Home" and "Where Rainbows Never Die." The pair also wrote the standout singles "Broken Halos" and "Second One To Know" as well as "Midnight Train To Memphis."
- "Nobody's Lonely Tonight" is Volume 2's most bluesy contribution. It's a slow-burning lament that feels closest to Traveller's "Sometimes I Cry," and Volume 1's "I Was Wrong." There are moments in these songs where Stapleton feels as close to becoming unhinged and off the rails as he can become. Where they differ though is where Stapleton is in the heartbroken grieving process. "Sometimes I Cry" and "I Was Wrong" have the apologetic Stapleton confessing his mistakes with his heart on his sleeve. "Nobody's Lonely Tonight" is a callused Stapleton who has given up on love, but still searching for some comfort. His "What's love but just some illusion we believe?" and "What's love but just some confusion we don't need?" may sound like cold pick-up lines, but Stapleton's delivery hints that he's still hurting on the inside.
5. "Tryin' To Untangle My Mind"
- "Tryin' To Untangle My Mind" opens up with a laundry list -- whiskey, women and money -- of ways Stapleton has tried to untangle his mind. Whiskey is Stapleton's all-time favorite song subject. Some whiskey highlights include "Tennessee Whiskey," "Whiskey & You," "Might As Well Get Stoned," "Parachute," "Nobody to Blame," "Drunkard's Prayer" as well as The SteelDrivers songs "Drinkin' Dark Whiskey" and "Good Corn Liquor."
- In the end, Stapleton resorts to getting stoned. It's often been his last resort in song and rivals the likes of Traveller's "Might As Well Get Stoned" and Volume 1's "Them Stems."
6. "A Simple Song"
- "A Simple Song" was written with Darrell Hayes, Stapleton's father-in-law. While "Millionaire" may get most of the fanfare for Stapleton's unflinching adoration for Morgane, "A Simple Song" is the down-home heart of Volume 2. Stapleton may be using a blue-collar narrator throughout, but make no mistakes, this is absolutely Stapleton. While Morgane's fingerprints (and harmonies) are all over Volume 2, they're most apparent here on "A Simple Song." As it hints, "A Simple Song" revolves around warm fingerpicking and plain, yet welcoming harmonies.
- "A Simple Song" is very much juxtaposed to "Scarecrow In The Garden." Where "Scarecrow In The Garden's" narrator is withdrawn and losing his faith, the narrator of "A Simple Song" is reassured by his family's presence time and again. Even when times get rough, he's comforted. "But I love my life and it's something to see. It's the kids and the dogs and you and me," sings Stapleton.
7. "Midnight Train To Memphis"
- "Midnight Train To Memphis" was first recorded by The SteelDrivers for their 2008 debut and written by Stapleton and Henderson. While "Midnight Train To Memphis" started out rooted firmly in bluegrass, the song took a rocking turn once Stapleton formed the short-lived Southern Rock outfit The Jompson Brothers. While never recorded by The Jompson Brothers, it was a staple of their live show and seems to be the blueprint for Volume 2's Southern Rock homage.
- Like Volume 1's "Death Row," Stapleton steps into the mind of a prisoner on "Midnight Train To Memphis." While "Death Row" has Stapleton sentenced to death, "Midnight Train To Memphis" is a much lighter sentence--a mere 40 days. Still, his insight for both characters feels genuine despite being at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. While "Death Row" has the narrator already having come to terms with his imminent death, Stapleton's "Midnight Train To Memphis" narrator is coming to grips with his lighter sentence.
8. "Drunkard's Prayer"
- "Drunkard's Prayer" feels tied to Traveller's "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore." "Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore" is the thoughts of a son speaking about the recent death of his father, stating that his father doesn't pray because his father has passed. The narrator of "Drunkard's Prayer" only prays when he's finished off a bottle ("I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees.") Like "Scarecrow In The Garden" or even "Death Row," "Drunkard's Prayer" is very conflicted by his thoughts on faith and forgiveness.
- "Drunkard's Prayer" was written by Stapleton and Jameson Clark. John Michael Montgomery first recorded a version for his 2008 album Time Flies. Clark and Stapleton have also written Zane Lewis' "A Helluva Time" and along with Trent Willmon, "Home Sweet Holiday Inn," which appeared on Willmon's self-titled debut.
- Written by veteran musicians Homer Banks and Lester Snell, "Friendship" was first recorded by Pops Staples, the longtime leader of American gospel soul outfit, The Staple Singers. It was posthumously released on 2015's Don't Lose This, which was produced by Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy.
- "Friendship" doesn't just bookend Volume 2. It's the final uplifting statement for Stapleton's From A Room project. While Stapleton questions the hardships of life throughout From A Room, "Friendship" reaffirms that friends and family are the backbone and foundation of life. The soulful laidback groove is as heartfelt as its' lyrics.