NPR logo Songs We Love: Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

Songs We Love: Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

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If you're a lover of songs well sung, you probably have a few voices you carry around to provide encouragement when things get rough and warm affirmation during moments of happiness. Chris Stapleton's voice is ideal for the journey. Perfectly imperfect, grounded in the taciturn expressiveness of his native Kentucky and honed by years of absorbing the lessons of Southern stylists from Z.Z. Hill to Ronnie Van Zant. Stapleton's singing is above all companionable, capturing the way pathos and joy and weariness can all flow through any given few hours. He's the kind of singer you turn to when you have five minutes alone in the midst of a bunch of craziness — a friend who, as you listen to him, seems to be listening to you.

"Traveller" is a quiet manifesto upholding this role. A gentle guitar line rolls out the song's road, with Stapleton's loose-asphalt baritone entering in contemplative mode and then pushing expertly into a high note. "I'm just a traveller on this earth," he sings. "Sure as my heart's behind the pocket of my shirt." The line is poetic, but also so beautifully matter-of-fact; holding emotion close but also keeping it to himself, Stapleton stands as a man continually learning about how to survive life's changes, little and big. When he sings of being "always lost and nowhere bound," the melody's ascent blends country calm and rock and roll release. It's the sound of a soul that's earned some understanding.

The first single and title track from his solo album out May 5, "Traveller" gives Stapleton's loyal admirers what they've been craving: a consummately crafted song that's also vibrant and immediate, traditionalist without being the least bit fussy about it. Stapleton first gained a following as the singer for the Grammy-winning bluegrass band The SteelDrivers, and through the years he's written or sung on hit singles for Luke Bryan, Josh Turner, Miranda Lambert and many others; Adele has covered his compositions, and so has Allison Krauss. He's a treasure who deserves the kind of genre-spanning audience a song like this one courts. Southern rock, Americana, country, long-haired soul — call "Traveller" whatever feels right. It belongs in all of those categories. It belongs in your day, whatever kind you're having.