Chris Stapleton’s From A Room: Volume 2 is so good, it’s got my fingertips itching. I haven’t wanted to write songs this badly since I bought my first guitar.
There’s a wholeness to how draped in the riches of love Chris is in Millionaire. His visions of love have depth (e.g., “I got a woman with eyes that shine deep as a diamond mine”). And from that depth, an energy radiates: “People look at her and they look at me and say, ‘That boy’s sure living in luxury.” It reminds me of how love can look good on you. All that he's living is for the wealth of her.
If not for his Millionaire benefactor, we probably don’t get the honky-tonk Hard Livin’. “I could never walk the line” is a nod to Johnny Cash and a memory of the reputation that receded him: “I was known to get out of hand.” He’s found reason to change and himself surprised (“Never thought it would happen to me”) that he wants to keep that new promise. He feels he has something to lose.
Scarecrow in the Garden is an origin story of shared hope (“They worked the land together and prayed the rain would come”) that becomes a burden (“The fields ain’t what they once were; the rains just seem to flood”). I love the way he creates its vibrant scenes with plain uses of color: “Well, the redhead son got older, and took a brown-eyed wife. And the fields were green as dollars, ‘cause the dirt was black as night.”
Ultimately, he has a choice to make. That the scarecrow looks like Lucifer is too specific a perception for crows, making its appearance instead a manifestation of his own fears. His lot in life—one he didn’t choose—haunts him. He was born here and he’ll die here (“I’ve been staring at the red oak, where I know they’ll lay me down”) under the stale weight of the opportunity the land’s supposed to harvest.
Nobody’s Lonely Tonight is about a specific loneliness—not just alone, left: “Somebody told you goodbye.” If love’s trappings are a maze, then there’s a choice to make: get lost or never step in. He says his choice is the latter, to be lonely together, to never try: “I know a way—can’t go wrong. Nobody leads nobody on.” But he still sees worth in love’s motions: “You’ll be her and I’ll be him. For a while, we’ll pretend.” Because nobody wants to be lonely unless it’s together.
The pursuit of happiness is a winding road through spaces we create for ourselves. Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind is a few minutes about the damage we cause along the way (e.g., “Let a good love spend too many nights alone”). It’s as if suffering’s his charge: “Heartache wrote the ticket, so I guess I’ll pay the fine.” He’s relegated to the blues his patterns yield: “I’ll do what I do ‘til the day I die.”
I think A Simple Song is an adaptation of my journal entries. (Or at least it would be if I journaled more often.) “Call my mama like I should”—I do, literally every Monday—“She says daddy ain’t doing too good”—she actually has been the bearer of that news. “I work on the factory line”—I have a place—“and all I do is stay behind”—and that place is in the back. It captures how much I feel like I’m often running even at rest, in stationary motion. And “It’s the kids and the dogs and you and me,” even with all its comfort, is exactly how I feel getting lost in what’s close rather than fixing what’s not.
Fuck prison time in lieu of being able to pay a fine, but it’s fitting that the reputation Chris has sung about would result in Midnight Train to Memphis. For his troubles, he’s been given “Forty days of shotguns and barbed wire fences,” with nothing but the sound of the train and his regrets at night (“Forty nights to sit and listen”). It’s a vivid analogy for this record’s theme of having to work through/burn off mistakes.
In Drunkard’s Prayer, he confesses to god, but not her: “When I talk to god, I tell him why we’re through.” Nothing she’s done or asked for has gotten him to walk the line (“I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees”). But even god’s kind of over it: “He’ll say, ‘Son, you’re on your own.’”
The problem, of course, is him. He apologizes for what he’s not, promises he can change, but notably makes no defense of anything he is. And his inability to articulate anything redeemable about himself—that he thinks so little of himself—means he’s probably still too much for someone else to bear.
If I didn’t already know how earnest Chris can sound, listening to Friendship would prove it. That I could be at my heaviest and have someone with strength to spare—“You weigh less than you think; I’ll carry you through the sinking sand; see if I let you sink”—would be to have the courage to live beyond my self-deprecation.
December 1, 2017
Chris Stapleton · Dave Cobb
Brice Long · Chris Stapleton · Darren Hayes · Homer Banks · Jameson Clark · Jaron Boyer · Kendell Marvel · Kevin Welch · Lester Snell · Matt Fleener · Mike Henderson