It isn’t often that a musician achieves an illustrious 15-year career that includes five number one hits, Grammy Award nominations, feature film contributions, producer credits and the respect of his peers before he ever releases his first solo album. But Chris Stapleton isn’t your average musician. The near-universal critical acclaim that has been heaped upon his debut album Traveller has been nothing short of amazing.
But that's where those of us that believed he should win every CMA Award he was nominated stopped short with our wishful thinking. Traveller and all of its singles received almost zero airplay across terrestrial radio. Despite every critical publications heaping praise, the project got nearly zero spins. For all intent and purposes, here's a 37-year-old "rookie" forging ahead in a twenty-something year-old Nashville pop-based music business. But somehow, he stole the country spotlight by winning Album of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year.
With a ZZ Top look-alike beard, Stapleton doesn’t look like your average country artist. With a booming voice that Rolling Stone’s Jon Caramanica called “liquor-thick and three-drinks limber,” he doesn’t sound like your average country artist. And with an incredible songwriting sensibility that draws as much inspiration from blues and soul as it does from country in his birthplace of Kentucky, his music doesn’t even sound like the average country artist—which is one of the reasons, for nearly everyone who listens, it stands out as a superior piece of art.
His first recorded work was in bluegrass with The Steeldrivers. He even dabbled with some southern rock with a project under The Jompson Brothers. But it is Traveller that has brought the spotlight on Chris Stapleton as a solo artist.
Could this be movement away from each and every song on the radio dial sounding the same? Will this open the door for playing songs for the merit of songs instead of beautiful people singing about trucks, back roads, and parties? Can it help rescue the album as a medium and shift the industry away from being a singles-driven machine? Only time will tell. But for one glorious evening, several thousand CMA voters got it right. They allowed a very special project to shine through from it's own merits and give it recognition no matter where it was being heard. The fact that the performance of the night was clearly Stapleton and his buddy Justin Timberlake certainly can't hurt the validation.
Truly. Great. Authentic. Art. If it wasn't an revolution in Nashville last night, it certainly was an evolution.