Review: Chris Stapleton Elevates His Sound Again with ‘Higher’

Chris Stapleton
(Mercury Nashville)
4.5 out of 5 stars

It’s been eight years since country songsmith Chris Stapleton broke into the country music mainstream with his stellar debut album Traveller. With his fifth studio album, Higher, he builds off the trademark sound that won over listeners without straying too far from what works.

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While Traveller was praised for its polished, modernized version of traditionalist country, Higher offers a more organic production style. Notably, wife and fellow musical talent Morgane Stapleton is credited as co-producer alongside Chris and longtime creative collaborator Dave Cobb for the first time. Although Cobb’s influence is still very much at the forefront, the LP provides some surprising sonic shifts. He infuses more blues and alt-rock influences than ever and offers a more sharply focused sound that captures the magic of live instrumentation.

Lyrically, Stapleton leans into love for most of the fourteen tracks. As a whole, the LP offers a surprisingly sunny and hopeful perspective from the reflective singer/songwriter. Chris and Morgane’s sweetly blended harmonies relay the authentic emotion of tracks like “Trust” and “It Takes a Woman.” Their perfected dual vocals serve as the backbone of the record’s lead track. “What Am I Gonna Do,” which Stapleton co-wrote with Miranda Lambert, offers thematic contrast as a stellar honky-tonk tearjerker. 

Mercury Nashville

The first fiery guitar solo comes in on the album’s second track, “South Dakota,” which will surely become a highlight of Stapleton’s live shows. There’s a little something for everyone on Higher, from groovy, passionate ballads (“Loving You on My Mind”) to the pains of life on the road (“Crosswind”).

In contrast to his 2020 record Starting Over, Higher seems to find Stapleton in a new chapter. Although his sound is more varied than ever, the collection of songs feels cohesive. He’s never been an artist too confined by genre lines, but Higher lets Stapleton roam free creatively. Five records in, the Kentucky native seems more comfortable with himself and his own creative vision than ever.

Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

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