To use an analogy, compare Chris Stapleton to Sturgill Simpson. Not necessarily in terms of sound or aesthetic, but in terms of what is about to happen to this relatively unknown country-folk artist. You may not have actually heard of Chris Stapleton, but you have undoubtedly heard a few of his songs. Maybe you listened to Adele's blockbuster 21 album, or any of the other No. 1 hits that Stapleton has written. Either way, this is one country artist who should absolutely be on your radar.
Given the illustrious resume of his songwriting career, it's no surprise that country music's most influential tastemakers are taking a look at the Kentucky-born Stapleton. After being signed to Mercury Nashville in 2013, Stapleton will debut his first solo release later this year. Before that, though, he'll play a gig at City Tavern to warm the Dallas audience up to his folky sound. Oh, and tonight he makes his national television debut with an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Now think about that for a moment: Letterman and then City Tavern? That order sounds backwards, which is good for the discerning music fan. Stapleton is ready to move beyond just being one of the music world's best songwriters, but the world doesn't know it yet. As a performer, he has a quiet intensity that is best consumed live; in video recordings of Stapleton's live performances, it's almost impossible to argue that the live versions don't far exceed those that have been recorded.
In terms of sound, it's difficult to put Stapleton into a limited genre category. His tunes effortlessly blend folk, country and Americana music into a sound that is wholly unique. Vocally, Stapleton has a unique timbre that would fit in nicely with the Jason Isbells of the world. Unfortunately, we haven't heard much of Stapleton's voice -- he's been too busy writing for other, equally talented artists in Nashville and beyond. That, happily, is about to change.
As a songwriter, he has an incredibly unique ability to draw deep emotion with his poetic and affecting lyrics. Put simply, he's exactly the kind of artist that country music needs. He's written tracks with legends like Peter Frampton and Vince Gill, and written songs on his own that have been recorded by George Strait, Darius Rucker and, of course, Adele. Now, though, he's ready to take the stage as a solo act, which may be one of the most exciting developments in country music this year.
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If you don't make it to Stapleton's show at City Tavern, which appears to be a sort of "testing the waters" for local acts who make it big, it might be your last time to see this guy in such an intimate venue. Before Sturgill Simpson was selling out clubs and theaters across the country, he was playing to 13 drunk guys at the Foundry. Dallas is lucky in that it attracts so much up-and-coming talent in the country world, but we don't always take advantage of it. This is one of those opportunities to do just that.
On May 5, Stapleton's solo debut, Traveller, will be released. After that, don't be surprised when the country blogs (myself included) anoint him as the next "big thing" in authentic country music. In the meantime, though, you should head to City Tavern. If only so that you can tell all your friends about seeing him in such an intimate space while they're begging for tickets to his next show at some of country music's biggest venues. And then you can be the one to say, "I told you so."
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