Chris Stapleton - Higher
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Higher (Mercury Nashville, 2023)

Chris Stapleton

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

There was a bit of a controversy at the recent CMAs when Chris Stapleton beat out Morgan Wallen for best male vocalist, especially after Wallen had such a huge year, commercially speaking. Yes, one can make the case that Wallen is the most popular male singer in country music these days. However, when it comes to pure singing, Stapleton is arguably the genre's most naturally talented singer. He doesn't really need any more proof of that, of course, but his "Higher" album exhibits further proof that nobody in country music sings better than Stapleton.

This album contains 10 tracks of extremely soulful singing, which, by now, is a consistency we might take for granted. Don't make that mistake, though, because Stapleton has a vocal gift that just keeps on giving.

Stapleton is also an A-list writer and a highly skilled guitarist, so he's truly the complete artistic package. He also keeps growing as an artist, too, as one titled "The Bottom" here applies a reflective, Bruce Springsteen vibe complete with Springsteen-esque acoustic piano accompaniment. Also, it seems as though Stapleton's best rocking songs are named after states, as "South Dakota" wonderfully brings out his gruff singing and sharp guitar fills the same way "Arkansas" did on the previous "Starting Over." Then there's "What Am I Gonna Do," which expresses emotional hurt over a primarily acoustic guitar template.

There's nothing corny or throw-away on "Higher," as each song stands up as a sincere statement. Stapleton never panders to Southern or country music stereotypes, so he doesn't ever lazily sing about, say, red dirt roads or sweet iced tea. Rather, he gets right to the point, directly to the essential substance of his songs.

The single, "White Horse," may express Stapleton's role best. He is, indeed, like that cowboy on the white horse, bringing high quality music like some sort of old-fashioned western hero. Granted, he may also look like quite the unassuming heroic figure, but "Higher" makes his case, even though his overall image may not. Chris Stapleton, our best country singer, just keeps on doing what he does so well.

CDs by Chris Stapleton

Higher, 2023 Startin' Over, 2020 From A Room: Volume 2, 2017 Traveller, 2015

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