Chris Stapleton, “From A Room: Volume 1” (Mercury Records)
Covering a song that Willie Nelson has already turned into a masterpiece might seem like a fool’s errand — unless you manage to make it your own.
Chris Stapleton does just that on “Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning,” a song Nelson covered memorably more than three decades ago. In the process, Stapleton proves he belongs in any conversation about the best things that have happened in country music ever since.
Two years to the day after releasing the landmark “Traveller” album, Stapleton delivers “From A Room, Volume 1,” the first batch of songs recorded in Nashville’s legendary Studio A with red-hot producer Dave Cobb. It’s sure to solidify Stapleton’s status as one of the most authentic voices working in any genre.
Yet even as conventional wisdom crystallizes around Stapleton’s authenticity — a notion reinforced by the brutal honesty of “Either Way,” among other cuts — the transcendence of his singing can’t be missed.
Like a handful of great country vocalists — including those named Jones, Haggard and Cash — Stapleton sounds like he downed a shot of whiskey before every song.
But when he leans into a build-up anthem called “I Was Wrong,” steadily pleading his way toward a higher register, Stapleton’s passion evokes the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and other blues, gospel and soul legends.
Yes, that’s heady territory. But it’s also an indication that Stapleton is an artist with rare talent, still ascending.