5 Powerhouse Vocal Performances from Chris Stapleton

You can point to many different reasons why Chris Stapleton has risen so quickly to elite level in the world of country and Americana music. He’s a piercing songwriter, both on his own and with co-writers. The guy is fearless about blending genre lines on his records. But perhaps more than anything, it’s that voice. Stapleton can get gritty, soulful, delicate, all within a few moments within a single song. And he can absolutely blow you away with the mere force of his vocals. Let’s take a look at five times when Stapleton’s singing stole the show on one of his songs.

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1. Sometimes I Cry” (from Traveller, 2015)

Stapleton’s debut album, Traveller, immediately revealed him to be a singular talent, someone who simply oozed effortless authenticity. He also didn’t seem to worry too much about how he would be defined or categorized, instead following his muse wherever that might take him.

For the record’s final song, he was taken to some slow, after-hours blues that allowed him plenty of room to wail. The lyrics tell a pretty simple, age-old story about a guy who tries to hide his anguish away, from everybody around him, even as he’s dealing with the memories of a lost love. Every time Stapleton tackles the refrain, it seems like it takes him to a new layer of his personal hell. And how many times do you think the applause at the end gets listeners to instinctively do themselves upon hearing this song for the first time?

2. “Cold” (from Starting Over, 2020)

Here’s another case where Stapleton’s willingness to try out new musical guises offers him the opportunity to cut loose with his vocals. “Cold” won a Grammy for Best Country Song, but truthfully, it sounds like it easily could have been penned for an R&B chanteuse. The ominous beat and the creeping strings aren’t exactly what you would expect, but they fit Stapleton like a glove.

For one thing, the song’s setup forces him to keep pushing his vocals to higher and higher levels. Yet he never seems like he’s over-emoting; instead he’s simply rising to the setting of the music. It’s a staggering performance, one where you get the feeling that it must have taken a lot out of Stapleton to deliver it, both in the studio and on the occasions when he performs it live.

3. “I Was Wrong” (from From a Room: Volume 1, 2017)

It’s interesting how many of the songs where Stapleton delivers the most powerful vocal performances also coincide with stinging guitar solos by him as well. The connection probably stems from the need to express the emotion contained within the lyrics in whatever method that’s available to him.

[RELATED: The 30 Best Chris Stapleton Quotes]

In the case of “I Was Wrong,” he tears into a ripper of a solo at song’s end. You can hear the same kind of feeling whenever he’s belting at the mic as well. The song is a lament about past mistakes, as evidenced by the title. But listen to the way Stapleton tackles the word I every time it comes up, his voice soulfully wavering as he tries, futilely, to get his point across to his former lover.

4. “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” (from Traveller, 2015)

You might think this one is an odd choice on a list of Chris Stapleton’s “powerhouse” vocal performances. After all, his voice never rises too far above the contained melody. But that restraint is exactly what makes his vocal so compelling and powerful.

Considering that it’s his own father Stapleton is referencing in this song, you might expect a lot of shouting to the rafters. Instead, he pays homage to the importance of the story about how his relationship with his father progressed and regressed over the years. In addition, had he come out wailing and exposing his sadness, it would have taken some of the punch out of the slight twist at the end that’s reminiscent of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The less-is-more approach is just what’s needed here.

5. “The Star-Spangled Banner” (live performance from Super Bowl LVII)

Singing the National Anthem is generally a thankless exercise. It’s a bear of a song to sing, forcing performers to display a crazy amount of range. And most people only take notice of the performance if someone screws it up. Which is why what Stapleton managed to do in Arizona before the Chiefs beat the Eagles in the ’23 Super Bowl was so amazing.

Instead of trying to do anything fancy, Stapleton just went out there with his guitar and managed to find nuance in the melody and chord changes. Anyone who manages to locate something new in a song that has been sung so often, in so many different ways, deserves all kinds of credit. Stapleton turned what seemed like a no-win situation into a triumph, and it was largely thanks to his naturally potent vocals.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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