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Chris Stapleton — On His Fifth Album, An Expansive Take On Southern Rock And Soul

It’s safe to say that Chris Stapleton has found his voice. The award-winning, widely beloved country singer-songwriter is known for being one of the greatest living singers of any genre, thanks to his soulful, gritty tone, his effortless sense of phrasing and dynamics, and his ease with blending genres and influences to create a sound all his own.

Even so, Stapleton tells Apple Music that it took time, work, and experience for him to feel at home in his own voice, rather than trying to imitate artists he admired as he did during the earliest years of his career. “If you heard a demo of me back then, it’s me trying to be Vince Gill or somebody that was a hero. It’s not as a voice, as a singer with a voice. I certainly hadn’t landed on that,” he says. “I could sing—I had ability—but I was still figuring that out. I think that finds you more than you find it. When you land on it, you’re like, ‘OK, this is what I do.’ I can live a lot of places, in a lot of different kinds of music and have fun with that, but I still feel like I’m me in those things. I’m not trying to impersonate somebody else.”

On his fifth solo album, Stapleton sounds as good as he ever has. Co-produced by his wife, Morgane Stapleton and longtime collaborator Dave Cobb, Higher is a sneakily expansive slice of country-informed Southern rock and soul, and also boasts some of Stapleton’s best lyric writing.

The LP opens on a high point, the Miranda Lambert cowrite “What Am I Gonna Do.” It’s a fresh take on a heartbreak tune, with Stapleton wondering what life might look like after the hurt has faded.

Stream Higher

“Loving You on My Mind” is Stapleton at his most smoldering, with a come-hither arrangement to boot. And the record closes with “Mountains of My Mind,” a Stapleton solo write/performance bristling with vulnerability.

Below, Stapleton shares insight into several of Higher’s key tracks. “What Am I Gonna Do” “I think Miranda Lambert is a wonderful artist and a wonderful writer. I don’t think people talk about what a great songwriter she is enough. She and I have written some songs over the years, and I actually called her when we were making this record. I was like, ‘Hey, do you remember that song we wrote?’ I could only remember half the song and I didn’t have a copy. She was kind enough to go digging for it, and she found it so we could cut it.”

“Loving You on My Mind” “Some of these songs are old, and that’s one of them. That song’s on a Josh Turner record somewhere. He did a great job with it. But it’s always one that I like to play. I like the chords in it and I like the changes in it. It’s a fun one to sing. I probably haven’t done as many of those kinds of sexy songs as I could have. My wife pushes for some of that stuff. I’m just like, ‘I don’t know if people want to hear me do that.’”

“Higher” “‘Higher’ is a song that’s off the first demo session I ever did when I moved to town. It’s a song I wrote by myself. And it was a step or a step and a half lower at that point in time than this. I think we landed at least a step or a step and a half higher on this, just because I was feeling good that day.”

“Crosswind” “‘Crosswind’ was an idea I got driving on I-65 from Florida back to Tennessee when it was really windy. It really didn’t turn into a song until the guys were kind of jamming on this groove and someone was like, ‘Wait, this is what this is.’ And we wrote a truck-driving song in the moment.”

“Weight of Your World” “I had been listening to a lot of Bill Withers when we wrote that, and I walked into the room thinking about ‘Lean on Me’ and what a great vibe that song is, what a great message it has. I think a lot of that song is probably derivative of that. Nobody quote me on saying that I think it’s ‘Lean on Me’—I don’t. I’m not Bill Withers, and you can only hope to write standards like that. But he had a lot of songs with wonderful messages, and that was one of them. And that was our attempt at that that day.”

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“Mountains of My Mind” “‘Mountains of my Mind’ is one I wrote by myself, and my wife was just bawling in the control room the whole time I was playing it. I just woke up one morning and wrote that one. There’s some of that ‘not being able to get through the day’ sometimes. I think everybody has those days.”

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