Chris Stapleton, "Starting Over" (Mercury Records Nashville)
To say Chris Stapleton is one of country music's best singers is to sell him short. He's one of the world's finest singers of any genre, period.
On his new album, "Starting Over," the Kentucky native ranges around in style with the confidence of a man who deserves the widest possible audience. His voice is pleading and impassioned and sounds phenomenal whether he's wailing the blues or gently covering the Guy Clark classic, "Old Friends," one of two Clark compositions here.
It doesn't hurt that Stapleton's working again with Dave Cobb, a producer who seems incapable of musical missteps himself. Other collaborators include pedal steel virtuoso Paul Franklin as well as Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty's legendary band.
Stapleton, though, doesn't need much help showing off his rock 'n' roll chops. He snarls and growls his way through "Arkansas," a song that could become that state's next anthem, and "Watch You Burn," an angry diatribe about domestic terrorism sung directly to the Las Vegas shooter and other perpetrators of mass violence. It ends with a roaring musical manifestation of what eternal damnation must sound like.
A singer this good can sometimes make unfortunate song choices and get away with it, but there is no weak cut on this album. On "Cold" and "Whiskey Sunrise," Stapleton shows his ability to live inside a heartache that few singers can match. On a ballad called "Nashville, TN," he bids a poignant, emotional goodbye to Music City. The common element throughout is soulful, honest singing.
"Starting Over" is the title song, but Stapleton needs no restart musically. He keeps building on all the good work he's done before, delivering songs that keep soaring higher — and in this case, one of the year's finest albums.