Ok, so we thought we’d try something different for this review, and if it works and you all enjoy it, we may do this on occasion for more albums in the future. Brianna and I each came into this album with very different opinions of Stapleton’s prior work; while we were both fans, she was more impressed by Traveller than I was, and a self-described Stapleton fan, and although I really enjoyed that album, I felt it was a bit too long and not quite on the level assigned to it by some critics. We both felt his unprecedented sweep of the 2015 CMA’s and subsequent historic success to be well-deserved and have both looked forward to this album. And, while we’ve both enjoyed Chris Stapleton’s second record, different songs and aspects spoke to each of us once again–it goes back to that whole “music is subjective” thing that Leon of Country Music Minds and I seemingly discuss every five minutes. So with that in mind, we thought we’d share our opinions together and just have a conversation about the music.
1. “Broken Halos”
Brianna: “Broken Halos” is a really nice way to open this album. From the opening acoustic guitar to Chris Stapleton’s voice, I was immediately drawn in by this song. I like the lyrics too, which are admittedly a bit vague, but seem to speak on how people help us, but eventually leave. This song has continued to grow on me with each listen. It’s one of my favorites off this album.
Megan: See, I would disagree slightly. I think it’s a really solid song, but it doesn’t draw me in as an opener like “Traveller” did off his last album. I think it’s the vagueness in the lyrics you mentioned. There’s no doubt his voice and that guitar make you want to listen, but for me, it’s not a strong opener.
Brianna: The vagueness is the one thing I’d change about that song.
2. Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning”
Megan: Wow, what a song this is. It’s a nice Willie Nelson cover, and the harmonies with his wife Morgane are always great. Although, and I’m probably going to be unpopular for saying this, I sort of feel like with this, and later on with another cover, he’s trying to manufacture another “Tennessee Whiskey” moment. And I’m just not sure that’s happening again. Still love this though.
Brianna: I never knew it was a cover until you told me, but I agree with you on feeling like he’s trying to make another “Tennessee Whiskey.” I really like the song, but at the same time, I don’t love it either. I won’t keep saying it, but his voice is fantastic. OH, and I like the imagery in the lyrics, but I guess that doesn’t really come into play here since it’s a cover.
Megan: I think it still does, to some degree. I mean, he did choose a good cover lol.
3. “Second One to Know”
Brianna: The more upbeat music on this track was a really nice change, and the theme in the lyrics is pretty clever, since he wants to be the “second one to know” if the woman he’s with decides she’s done with the relationship. It’s really catchy since the song’s fast too. It’s not my favorite, but I do wonder why this particular song was chosen to be performed on the [ACM] awards.
Megan: I agree–I like the theme and the upbeat instrumentation. Not to harp on it any more, but if I’m Stapleton, I’m opening the album with this fun little song.
Brianna: There aren’t many upbeat songs on the album, though, so maybe that would have misled the listener. Not sure why they did a lot of things they did, though.
Megan: You make a good point here–and yeah, Mercury really screwed up a lot of things, but that’s enough for a whole other piece lol.
4. “UP to No Good Livin'”
Megan: Here’s your classic country song, complete with lots of steel. Everybody who says Stapleton’s more soul than country, it’s like this song is a giant “f you” to this notion.
Brianna: Exactly. He proves he’s country with this song. NO surprise to anyone, but it’s my favorite. The steel, the vocals, the lyrics being very witty, talking about being unable to live down being up to no good.
Megan: Yep. “I’ll probably die before I live all my up to no good livin’ down”–I’m not sure you get much more country than that.
Brianna: I love it. So much.
5. “Either Way”
Brianna: I love the acoustic production here. It really allows Chris Stapleton’s voice to be the star–which it should be on a painful song like this. It took me a moment to adjust to this version of the song, since I’ve only heard Lee Ann Womack sing it, but he’s very successful at making his version stand out. The chorus gets me every time.
Megan: Yeah, and if he’s actually going to have another “Tennessee Whiskey,” it’s going to be here, as I prefer this version. The actual lyrics are about a couple passing in the hall but barely speaking, and when he belts out, “You can go, or you can stay, I won’t love you either way,” you can’t help but feel that pain. My favorite of the album.
6. “I Was Wrong”
Megan: Well, I said Stapleton isn’t more soul than country, but he’s definitely got a lot of soul in his country, and all that comes bursting out on this heartbreak song. One of the least country moments, but also one of his best vocal performances on the record.
Brianna: Yes, I have to agree with you about how soulful this song is. What I love about Chris Stapleton is that he isn’t out of place singing in a few different genres, and that it all feels natural. Back to the song…I like that he outright admits that he was wrong to his ex, as opposed to only himself.
7. “Without Your Love”
Brianna: This is my least favorite song off this album. The chorus is very catchy, though. I like that this is the next song after “I Was Wrong,” as it could be seen as the continuation of the story. I just think this song is otherwise forgettable.
Megan: It’s my least favorite too, and it does feel like the continuation of “I Was Wrong,” as in this one, he’s missing the ex. But it also adds to it being forgettable because it comes off as the lesser version of the incredible “I Was Wrong.” ON a longer album, I don’t mind this, but on a 9-track project, it feels like filler, and you can’t afford filler on a 9-song album, especially not one as stripped-back as this.
8. “Them Stems”
Brianna: It really does, as does “Them Stems.” I like the rhythm of the song, and again, the album did need a bit of a change in tempo, but this song doesn’t grab me aside from that.
Megan: Yeah, this is where we’re total opposites. I saw SCM call this filler and call the use of pot references to be cool outdated–which it is–but sue me, this is just the fun break from the rest of the album that I needed. One of my favorites. Just makes me smile every time I hear it. Also have to love the harmonica.
Brianna: Haha, I do recognize that a fun song was needed here, so I get it. And it is catchy. I don’t hate it, but it is my second least favorite.
9. “Death Row”
Megan: It’s a nice way to close the album, mixing his soulful voice with more country lyrics about a man on death row. The only tiny criticism I have for this is that while he sings the crap out of it, I don’t quite feel his pain like I do in “Either Way” and “I was Wrong.” Doesn’t quite connect with me.
Brianna: I don’t feel it emotionally either. Also, is it just me, or is the song kind of ambiguous? I don’t know if he did it or not. The reason I say that is because he says he told Jesus everything he knew, not everything he did. Plus, his lyrics are a bit hard for me to understand when the song starts.
Brianna: I love the sparse production though. It fits perfectly.
Megan: Yes, I would agree about it being ambiguous, not quite specific enough to strike a chord. That production definitely fits it and closes the whole thing well.
So, as you can see, although we both enjoyed this quite a bit, different moments stood out to each of us. My favorites were “Either Way,” “I Was Wrong,” and “Them Stems.” Brianna’s standouts were “Up to NO Good Livin'” and “Broken Halos.” WE did agree that “Without Your Love” seemed like filler, and we each thought that while this record was solid, as a 9-song effort, it seems to still be missing something. For me, it’s an overall better effort than Traveller because that was too long, but since this was shorter, I wanted it to be nothing but brilliant songs, and it didn’t quite live up to that. Brianna considers this more a solid, consistent effort all the way through for a 7.5, while I see it as a good album with a little filler but also some standout brilliance, making it about an 8.5. So we’re going with a collective
Decide for Yourself