Mercury Nashville / UMG Recordings
Release Date: November 13th 2020
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Starting Over
- Devil Always Made Me Think Twice
- When I’m With You
- Joy Of My Life
- Hillbilly Blood
- Maggie’s Song
- Whiskey Sunrise
- Worry B Gone
- Old Friends
- Watch You Burn
- You Should Probably Leave
- Nashville, TN
There’s hope in having to start over. Within that idea, there’s the promise of making something a little better… I’m a guy who plays music who happens to have long hair. Am I country? Shoot, I’m from east Kentucky, and I don’t think it gets any countrier than that. If you wanna call me that, sure, I’ll take it and wear it proudly, but there are a lot of other influences that I would be quick to mention… I don’t remember [my parents] saying to me, ‘Well, you can’t listen to that kind of music or this kind of music.’ It was all on the table.
I’ve said time and time again in my previous reviews that for a long time I wasn’t a fan of country music. then I listened to (and reviewed!) Carrie Underwood’s album Cry Pretty (simple because it’s Carrie!), and now the rest is history. I’ve blogged about 9 country artists in my list of future musical influencers… and now here in 2021, I’m revisiting one of 2020’s most underrated gems. Yep, it’s another country artist and a comforting yet confronting ‘country’ release- I say this in inverted commas, simply because the album is Starting Over by Chris Stapleton. Now Chris has had an interesting journey to stardom- and it’s happened late in life as he’s in his 40’s now… but I’ll leave all of the intricacies of Chris and his musical history to a later date when I blog about him (yep, the 10th and probably final country artist I’m blogging about in this series!); but if you want to know and read more about his story and how he got his start- well, then Wikipedia is a great place to find pieces of information that can be interesting to different people in many different ways. Similar in vocals and overall vibe to Third Day, Zach Williams and Needtobreathe (three artists whom have captured my attention, and whom I have resonated with greatly over the years); how about I dive deep, as much as I can with the limited knowledge of Chris that I have, into these 14 tracks, into one of the most inspiring and powerful albums of 2020? Ok, cool, well let me first start off with a question. And it is this.
What would we give to start over? No seriously- sometimes we need a good shake-up and the concept of ‘starting over’ or leaving your past behind and being this ‘new person’ is kind of therapeutic to some. After the literal hell that most of us have been living in 2020, the sense that 2021 is the year where we all have turned a corner for the better, is a notion that we all will hold onto for a long time yet. And Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, his fourth album in his career thus far, is a gentle and timely reminder that starting over is beneficial for the human soul, and more often than times necessary in order to grow as people and strengthen our character and relationships with those around us. Of course, Jesus Christ can help us start over into the person He’s wanting us to be… but for those who don’t believe in God… starting over is a concept that’s good on paper, but a concept in which we need all the help that we can get. And it is in these 14 tracks where I find that Chris is imparting us wisdom and guidance- and this album is so much like a rulebook or a manual or a guidebook, if we just sit back, listen and let these truths soak deep inside our very being. Starting Over kicks of proceedings with the slow-paced and heartfelt title track, driven by the simple yet effective acoustic guitar; whereby Chris sings about making a future with his wife and about actively making a change in his life- to get rid of the negative influences in his life and to only focus on the good relationships. The lyrics in the chorus remind us that making an effort in relationships is worth it in the end, as ‘…it don’t matter to me, wherever we are is where I wanna be, and honey, for once in our life, let’s take our chances and roll the dice, I can be your lucky penny, you can be my four-leaf clover…’, and this song is sure to bring a smile to your face whenever you listen to it- I know it was extremely catchy, moving and inspiring to me!
The rest of the album, though daunting with 13 more tracks, packs a punch, as Chris delivers more pearls of wisdom and solid gold truths! “Devil Always Made Me Think Twice”, similar in theme to Avril Lavigne’s “I Fell In Love with the Devil”, is a slow-burn rocker, whereby Chris relays that he’s still tempted to do the things we shouldn’t do, and to not do the things we should, even though ‘…mama always set a good example, daddy always gave me good advice, Jesus tried to steer me in the right direction…’, reminding me of Romans 7:15-20; while the painful and emotional ballad “Cold”, directs the hurt and heartache to an ex, as Chris asks her ‘…why you got to go and cut me like a knife, and put our love on ice? Oh, girl you know you left this hole, right here in the middle of my soul…’– a poignant song that’s uncomfortable to many, yet is needed as breakups are more common these days even though they shouldn’t be. It’s this vulnerability here that makes me admire Chris, as even in these songs he doesn’t sugar-coat anything! The introspection and self-examination continues with the Third Day-like “When I’m With You”- as Chris sings to his wife (or possibly God) declaring that when he’s with them, that ‘his dreams have come true and the skies are blue’, as opposed to going through the motions of life, and realising that ‘…the end of the rainbow ain’t no pot of gold, the things that I’ve done, I doubt anyone will remember after I’m gone…I’m still searchin’ for something I know that I’m not gonna find…’; and though this melody hardly builds, we are presented with one of the most resonating and emotive songs on this album!
The Zach Williams like rocker “Arkansas” pays homage and a tribute to one of Chris’s favourite towns ever (I presume), and it just a fun, rocking track, without much deep meaning; while John Fogerty’s “Joy of My Life” is covered here by Chris, and is a sweet depiction of Chris’s solid relationship with his wife (similar in theme to “When I’m With You”). “Hillbilly Blood”, the only negative I have about this track list, is a weird song title, and is a slow-paced track that I personally didn’t really connect with. The song could’ve been cut and the album cohesion still would’ve been fine- as Chris sings about the notion of being a southern man is seeped deep in tradition and ‘hillbilly blood’; however the tear jerker “Maggie’s Song” is a tribute to the family dog, who recently passed away- an emotional song with Marley & Me-vibes- as Chris eloquently relays that “…I wrote that song the day after our dog, Maggie, passed away. We had her for 14 years and I miss her quite a bit. I’m not really a dog person, either, that’s worth saying. But I loved that dog for sure. Every word of that song is just a true thing…”
“Whiskey Sunrise”, probably one of the more personal, emotional and honest songs on Starting Over, is a slow-tempo rocker that delves into the concept of alcoholism and possibly depression, as Chris sings either experience or from someone he knows, about the notion of drinking your troubles away, to numb the feelings and the pain, as ‘…I drink all night, but the hurtin’ won’t stop, and every shot I take just turns into teardrops…’. It’s a topic that seems taboo to talk about, but luckily here, Chris shines a spotlight on addiction, and hopefully through hearing this song, people can finally admit their own shortcomings, and can receive the adequate help and support that they need. Guy Clark’s “Old Friends” and “Worry B Gone” are next, and are covered exquisitely here, with the former being an album highlight, with Chris moving between spoken word and traditional singing, and championing the concept of keeping in touch with old lifelong friends; and the latter being a fun song about smoking for pleasure and leisure, which is somewhat surplus here given the bloated 14-track album, but still is a toe tapper and a groovy danceable melody! “Watch You Burn” follows, and is a revenge-type rocker, inspired by the prevalence of gun violence and mass shootings in America recently. With Chris imagining a scenario where the perpetrators of horrible crimes receive their comeuppance in a rather more violet and unlawful way ala Dexter; I reckon that this song is one of the most therapeutic to listen to, as it gives us all a sense of control and wanting to vanquish all the evil on this earth- and hopefully when we listen to this harrowing melody, we are reminded of the eternal justice God will deliver to all who have wronged us someday!
“You Should Probably Leave”, an equally weird title to “Hillbilly Blood”, is the penultimate song on Starting Over, but is necessary to listen to, as Chris delves into the concept of temptation and alling upon all of our restraint to stay faithful to our significant other, rather than cheating and having a fleeting fling which never satisfies. A track that theoretically shouldn’t even be sung (because why would we be in a situation where cheating is an option in the first place?), “You Should Probably Leave” reminds us all that doing the right thing is hard; but rewarding and satisfying in the end. Starting Over ends with “Nashville, TN”- a song of fondness and ultimately a break up song between Chris and the town of Nashville, the town that got him his start and made him famous. As Chris sings about how ‘…you can’t have what’s left of me, and as far as I can tell, it’s high time, I wish you well, you build me up, you set me free, you tore down my memories, so you be you and I’ll be me, so long, Nashville, Tennessee…’, we are met with a mutual parting of the ways and an amicable splitting, that holds no hard feelings, as Chris shows maturity and thanks Nashville for laying down the foundation of his music career, but ultimately decides that he wants to move onto bigger things that are in other places. It’s just the way it is, and ending this album with this song is so fitting, as it signifies the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.
I told myself that if I got to 40 years old and nothing was happening, I was going to give up on the touring thing and just settle into songwriting. But that series of events, the graciousness of someone allowing me the freedom to do something unconventional by modern label standards—those things really helped make what we get to be now…the uncertainty can be a catalyst for all kinds of new avenues, for things we are capable of, or maybe we should have been doing all along. It’s not necessarily easy. It’s probably not even meant to be. But that’s the human experience—you get faced with a problem, and you figure out what it is you can do that turns that into an opportunity for a solution.
Chris Stapleton is an artist that possibly not that many people know about… as he has only recently risen to fame, and he’s in a very niche market. However I reckon that starting Over is a hidden treasure and a gem in all of the sea of releases of 2020- and I am certain that this record will make you a fan of Chris’s music. Maybe not the country genre… but certainly Chris’s brand of country and southern style singing, of vulnerably telling the truth and reminding us all of the demons we all need to deal with, and the support of family, friends and God that we all can rely upon. Even now, with so many good things to say about Chris… I’ll leave that to my blog, as I don’t like really repeating myself! So without further ado, let me say well done Chris and hats off to everyone involved in the making of this album- and to the doubters I say take a chance on this. Starting Over is one of my favourite albums of 2002- and I hope it’s near the top of your list as well!
3 songs to listen to: When I’m With You, Old Friends, Watch You Burn
RIYL: Zach Williams, Third Day. Needtobreathe, Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Luke Combs