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Chris Stapleton - Higher (Album Review)

Tuesday, 28 November 2023 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Becky Fluke

Country music as a genre is conservative with both a small and a big ‘C’. When country singers move beyond quite strict musical and storytelling parameters, they risk being ostracised, debarred. “That ain’t country,” is a battlecry for barstool bores from Nashville to Austin.

So while Chris Stapleton’s sixth studio album stays firmly in its lane, it nonetheless sees the superstar Lexingtonian develop and polish his magnificent sound into something new, reaching for emotional notes that go far beyond the cliches that dog the genre.

First among the tunes is probably Think I’m in Love With You. It’s a low-slung toe tapper that recalls some of Eric Clapton’s smoother moments, and it's also a solid gold earworm.

The central rhythmic lyrical refrain is absolutely irresistible, and Stapleton’s performance is mannered, eloquent and completely authentic.

It Takes a Woman is also brilliant. Like Adele, Stapleton is primarily a singer of ballads, and his voice is at its most devastating when he appears lost in folksy reverie. The song is detailed, machine-tooled. It’s upsetting and reassuring at the same time.

A more raucous number is What Am I Gonna Do, a chuntering love song with a consistent harmony line. It’s a little bit more on the nose in terms of the genre’s story touchpoints (read: heartache and whisky) but, once again, lands the moves with exquisite balance and precision. 

And maybe that’s the best way to understand ‘Higher’. It is a record that needs to stay ruthlessly wedded to the country genre, but is kicking close as possible at the outer edges. It’s present, human, practical and probably completely impractical at the same time. He'll be a Country Music Hall-of-Famer one day.

Chris Stapleton Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed October 16 2024 - MANCHESTER AO Arena
Thu October 17 2024 - GLASGOW OVO Hydro
Sun October 20 2024 - DUBLIN 3Arena
Tue October 22 2024 - BIRMINGHAM Utilita Arena
Wed October 23 2024 - LONDON O2 Arena

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