Five Essential Songs by Chris Stapleton

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photo by Becky Fluke

Before he found success as a solo performer with his debut album Traveller, Chris Stapleton wrote killer songs for groups like The SteelDrivers and The Jompson Brothers, as well as hits for some of country music’s biggest performers. Here are five of his best compositions.

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The SteelDrivers, “If It Hadn’t Been For Love”

Co-written with Mike Henderson, this blast of blues and backwoods country has grown into one of The SteelDrivers’ most requested tunes, thanks in large part to the Adele cover that appeared on her chart-topping album, 21. As performed by the SteelDrivers, though, it’s a barn-burning murder ballad whose lyrics are just as fierce and haunting as Stapleton’s delivery.

The Jompson Brothers, “Secret Weapon”

Like a high-school jock who’s taken too many hits on the football field, the Jompson Brothers’ self-titled album is big, muscle-bound, gloriously dumb and totally obsessed with sex. On “Secret Weapon,” the guys ride a super-sized guitar riff all the way to biker-bar heaven, taking their cues from classic rock radio as well as Sirius XM’s Hair Nation. The whole thing is an extended metaphor for the R-rated scenery that looms below Stapleton’s belt buckle, but there’s enough humor here – as well as pure, unbridled rock – to give “Secret Weapon” plenty of firepower.

George Strait, “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright”

One of Strait’s final chart-toppers, this contemporary classic coasts along on a simple chord progression that barely changes between verse and chorus. Stapleton, who wrote the song with Al Anderson, has been known to perform it himself, too, although those instances are rare. “I feel like those songs belong to the people who recorded them, more than they belong to me,” he says. “‘Drink A Beer’ is a good example. I wrote it, but that’s Luke Bryan’s song. It was completely fictional for me, but for him, it wasn’t. It applied to his life.”

Chris Stapleton, “Whiskey And You”

Tim McGraw may have recorded “Whiskey And You” years before Traveller‘s release, but Stapleton reclaims it with his own stripped-down performance, which was recorded in one take while Traveller was being mixed in the adjacent room. The very first line – “There’s a bottle on the dresser by your ring” – tells you all you need to know, but the rest of the song carefully fills in the gaps, spilling enough heartache and regret to fill a saloon’s worth of shot glasses.

Chris Stapleton, “Parachute”

The loudest, liveliest track on his solo debut, “Parachute” tips its cowboy hat to all of Stapleton’s recent projects. The string-band stomp during the song’s intro rustles up memories of The SteelDrivers, while the chorus – which finds Stapleton wailing in his upper register like a southern Sebastian Bach – pays tribute to The Jompson Brothers. Then there’s the reference to whiskey, a liquor that makes its fair share of appearances in Stapleton’s solo catalog. You can take the guy out of Kentucky, but …

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