REVIEW: Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” is 14 Tracks of Heartfelt Country Goodness


I don’t guess there’s a more solid combination in music – ANY type of music – right now than Chris Stapleton and Dave Cobb. Stapleton and his soulful voice have been writing and delivering good, expressive songs since his days fronting the SteelDrivers. And producer Cobb has helped turn Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Colter Wall into Americana stars. Together, they’ve released three blockbuster hit albums. Now, as 2020 draws to a close, they’re back with Starting Over, 14 tracks of heartfelt country goodness.

Stapleton is known for writing songs about what might be called “relative happiness.” For example, “Millionaire,” from 2017’s From A Room: Volume 2, notes that love has him “living in luxury” even if his bank account doesn’t match his ardor. They’re the songs of a man who found love (with wife and band member Morgane Stapleton) before overwhelming musical success, and it makes them feel much more earned than the “bro country” that Stapleton occasionally shares the radio dial with. Starting Over’s title cut is in that vein. It’s a jangly ode to leaving behind what’s not needed – “I’ve had all of this town I can stand” – while holding on to what’s important – “Wherever we are is where I want to be.” The harmonies between the Stapletons, along with great organ work from Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, make this tune a keeper. 

There are several of these Stapleton-esque love songs scattered about the record. “When I’m With You,” a sad-ish country ballad, has the early-40s singer looking askance at aging – “Sometimes I can’t stand/How my back and my hands/They won’t work like they used to” – but still happy when he’s with his love. Even “Maggie’s Song” is a sweet devotional to his beloved dog. Just…don’t listen all the way to the end.

My favorite type of Stapleton track, though, is the “angry drinkin’ song” (think “Hard Livin’” off From A Room: Volume 2), and there are a couple of those on Starting Over. “Devil Made Me Think Twice” is an ode to life’s not-so guilty pleasures, and it features some great guitar work from Stapleton (lauded as a singer and writer, his ax work is highly underrated). “Whiskey Sunrise” is a slow burn about drowning bad love in brown liquor – “A pain in my heart ‘cause I could not forgive her/That’s as deep as the river is wide” – topped off by another furious guitar solo. Speaking of guitar players, the legendary Mike Campbell makes a couple of appearances. “Arkansas” is a barn-burner about the joys of the Natural State. And “Watch You Burn” (like “Arkansas,” co-written by the Heartbreaker) is the surprise of the record – it’s Stapleton’s reflection on the 2017 Route 91 Harvest music festival mass shooting in Las Vegas, and it is most certainly NOT a “thoughts and prayers” song – “If I could snap my fingers/If I could flip a switch/I’d make that last bullet first/You son of a bitch.” Backed by the All Voices Choir, the tune is both haunting and outright pissed off, and it’s one of the few production flourishes from Cobb – there’s also a good-sized string section present on “Cold” – but, for the most part, the producer lets Stapleton and his longtime band put the songs front and center.

Guest appearances creep up in other ways on Starting Over, in the form of songs from John Fogerty (“Joy of My Life”) and Guy Clark (“Worry Be Gone” and “Old Friends”). The album wraps on a note from Chris and Morgane, “Nashville, TN.” It’s a love letter and a bit of a kiss-off to Music City. It reflects both the romanticism of the town – “You showed me how to write a song/We wrote some right, we wrote some wrong” – and the frustration felt by so many young artists – “You won’t miss me when I’m gone/You’re custom made for moving on.” While the Stapletons have found fame and fortune in Nashville and its historic RCA Studio A, many more have not, and this song’s for them. 

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Arkansas,” with Stapleton and Campbell swapping guitar licks on the All-American Road Show tour.

Starting Over was produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton, engineered by Vance Powell, Gena Johnson and Mike Fahey, mixed by Powell and mastered by Pete Lyman. Additional songwriting credits go to Mike Henderson, Al Anderson, J.T. Cure, Derek Mixon, Mike Campbell, John Fogerty, Tim Krekel, Guy Clark, Susanna Clark, Lee Roy Parnell, Gary Nicholson, Richard Dobson, Ashley Gorley, Chris DuBois and Morgane Stapleton. Musicians on the album include Morgane Stapleton (background vocals, tambourine), Derek Mixon (drums, percussion), J.T. Cure (bass), Dave Cobb (acoustic guitar, percussion), Benmont Tench (organ, piano), Mike Campbell (electric guitar), Paul Franklin (pedal steel), David Davidson, David Angell, Conni Ellisor, MaryKathryn VanOsdale, Karen Winkelmann, Jenny Bifano and Alicia Enstrom (violin), Kristin Wilkinson (viola), Carole Rabinowitz, Sari Reist, Kevin Bate and Austin Hoke (cello) and the All Voices Choir (Shannon Sanders, Lenesha Randolph, Jordan Holland, Lauren McClinton, Melody Sheppard, Tamica Harris, Marqo Patton and Traneshia Chiles).

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Check out 2021 dates for Stapleton’s “All-American Road Show” here:


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