Chris Stapleton’s debut album didn’t sound like the singer-songwriter’s first go-around—and it wasn’t. A smooth, mature, and confident opening salvo, 2015’s Traveller conveyed the full weight of Stapleton’s vast experience in Nashville, resulting in a genre-shifting album that would become one of the biggest country releases of the 21st century. Produced by Dave Cobb, Traveller bridged the often wide gap between the genre’s radio hits and crossover audiences, going platinum six times over, and spawning a number of new standards—none more memorable, of course, than the completely reimagined country classic “Tennessee Whiskey.” After spending years writing songs, singing backup, and playing guitar for everyone from Brad Paisley to Lee Ann Womack to Kenny Chesney, Stapleton had gotten a taste of the limelight as lead singer for critically acclaimed bluegrass ensemble The SteelDrivers. Still, no one quite saw his solo takeover coming—perhaps because his warm, blue-eyed country-soul is so understated and familiar. Together with Cobb, Stapleton found a compelling signature sound, one that’s undeniably retro without feeling rehashed or overworked. In doing so, they pushed country radio’s doors open a little wider. Throughout Traveller, the singer’s smoky, warm rasp—there’s a reason whiskey is the album’s recurring theme—threads together rollicking barn-burners like “Parachute” and “Nobody to Blame” with the acoustic melancholy of tracks like “Whiskey and You” and the clear-eyed “Traveller.” The album also finds plenty of room for the potent high harmonies of Morgane Stapleton—the singer’s wife, and Traveller’s not-so-secret and very crucial ingredient. Cobb’s production is all burnished, classic acoustic sounds—lush, but not overcomplicated. The team’s intoxicating, transformative power is exemplified on “Tennessee Whiskey,” a Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove tune originally recorded by David Allen Coe and George Jones. The Stapletons and Cobb render the tune unrecognizable, turning a standard into an iconic, intimate, and timeless love song.

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