Chris Stapleton has a lot of ties to Alabama — North Alabama, specifically — but the Paintsville, Ky., native has never lived closer than Nashville. He was replaced as the lead singer of bluegrass band Steeldriver by Muscle Shoals native Gary Nichols.
His overdue debut solo record, Traveller, was produced by Dave Cobb, the Nashville wizard responsible for the breakthrough by Muscle Shoals native Jason Isbell, Southeastern, along with Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and the forthcoming debut by Athens, Ala., native Anderson East, Delilah — and the latter even helped track Stapleton’s album.
“Actually, if you like the order the songs are in on [Traveller], a lot of that was Anderson,” said Stapleton. “He was in the studio when we were putting it together and he helped line up the tracks.”
After 15 years of writing country songs for some of the biggest names in the business, Stapleton is on his own. The 37-year-old has authored tunes by George Strait, Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney and Darius Rucker, among many others.
In May, Stapleton released a collection of 14 songs under his own name. One, a cover of George Jones’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” had become a staple when he toured, so he and Cobb elected to bring it to the studio.
“That song kind of chose me,” he said. “We were sound checking one night and we started playing it. Our steel player at the time was Steve Hinson, who used to play with George Jones. We started playing it in the show that night and we started doing it every other night and Dave wanted to put it on the record.”
Not unlike the works of his peers Isbell and Simpson, Stapleton’s record has been praised as “authentic.” The lead single, “Traveller,” is complemented by titles such as “Whiskey and You,” “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” and “Might as Well Get Stoned.” Unlike his peers, though, Stapleton’s songwriting sounds much closer to a traditional Nashville-country sound.
“When the Stars Come Out” is a songwriting collaboration with Dan Wilson. Most often recognized as the lead singer of Semisonic, Wilson has collaborated with Adele, Taylor Swift, Spoon, John Legend and another Muscle Shoals act, The Secret Sisters. It was another of Wilson’s collaborations that led him to Stapleton.
“Dan asked me to write some songs with him and Preservation Hall Jazz Band,” said Stapleton. “So that was how we began working on songs together.”
He was influenced by Petty, and he’s written songs for Hootie, King George (Strait) and Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Eclectic, sure, but Traveller isn’t even Americana. It’s the most straightforward country release of 2015, and if country music is ever saved, Chris Stapleton can wear the white hat.
Stapleton brings Traveller to Iron City on Sunday, June 7. Sam Lewis opens the show. Doors open at 7 p.m., while the show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $23 at the door.