Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016

Chris Stapleton – Nobody to Blame

Authenticity. (ducks, backs away from imminent argument)


Anthony Easton: Chris Stapleton seems to be the foreground of a new authenticity — the same kind of move that Alan Jackson did in the late ’90s, and that Randy Travis did a decade before that. Stapleton’s been an insider for a decade or so, and Nashville is interior enough that if it wants to reboot from where it has found itself, it can do so pretty easily They also are paying attention to what pre-commercial authenticity meant — which means about five years before whatever the market is selling, which in this case means sounding pretty much exactly like Jamey Johnson. I am willing not to have country music be saved, and I don’t think saving means much. But figuring out how to sell what is authentic is a neat way of figuring out the market. For example, women like Brandy Clark or Kacey Musgraves who try to play this game don’t sell at all. To see another example, the best example of Stapleton’s voice is his cover of Ernest Tubb’s “Waltz Across Texas.” It has just enough Willie, and it sounds like something that has not been marketed to death. It’s beautiful and vital and historical and new. It’s also an ad for Ram Trucks. I like being sold to. I don’t like being bored with narratives of novelty or faux tradition. I also really don’t like his voice.

Jonathan Bogart: Sue me, I liked the Georgia Satellites too.

Cassy Gress: I was raised in Kentucky and so was Chris, and that accent was instantly recognizable to me. And I’m worried that me being absurdly tickled about that correlation may be unreasonably boosting the score, but this gets points because 1) it’s not another fucking dirt road song, 2) he’s got a great rough soulfulness and range to his voice, 3) that steel guitar and that harmonica sound almost like voices themselves, and 4) how often do songs fade out on a minute of just dueling guitars? I sort of wish that instead of “nobody to blame / but me” x2, it was “nobody to blame / nobody to blame / but me”, but that’s just me willing it to turn into a 12-bar blues.

Crystal Leww: Country and dance are both “niche” genres that have exploded in popularity in the last five to ten years, but that popularity couldn’t be more different. Calvin Harris, Avicii and Zedd all achieved hits on pop charts, but country has largely stayed on country radio. Pop songs with country-tinged production have hit it big — those Avicii singles, Andy Grammer, etc. — and occasionally KISS FM will play a Sam Hunt song, but for the most part, pop radio is free of Actual Country Music. Similarly, DJs and producers have no problem getting on the bills of major summer festivals, but country artists have mostly been confined to their own events like Stagecoach or the CMA Music Festival. However, this year, Chris Stapleton surprised by appearing on the bill for Bonnaroo and Coachella. His quick rise was surprising, even for a genre that is constantly struggling with the push and pull of traditionalism, but how quickly non-country fans have rallied behind him is not. Sneering bro non-fans of niche genres almost always rally behind “traditional” artists, especially the men who do it, and often without looking at the tradition that exists. Country is a genre where it’s hard to fake it, and even the poppiest country stars root their music in country traditions (i.e. did you know Sam Hunt is a big fan of “Fancy”?) It would have been nice to see traditionalists Kacey Musgraves or Ashley Monroe get this kind of attention, but alas, these indie bros have rallied behind Chris Stapleton, who makes music like “Nobody to Blame” that is as boring and predictable as his Bonnaroo billing. This is fine, but it’s not here to save you.

Thomas Inskeep: The soupy ’70s Waylon Jennings guitars on this are much more distinctive than Stapleton’s flat, classic rock-sounding vocal. The song itself is sturdy, because he’s a solid writer.

Brad Shoup: The retaliation list is so thorough, and he’s so reticent about the cause, that I’m baffled. He’s so equanimous: his rue isn’t rue, and those blues aren’t really blues. When he mentioned how the whole thing was a country song, I realized: he’s doing a Kid Rock impression.

Maxwell Cavaseno: The whole of this record could be summarized by a series of jackets getting ripped open to reveal chest hair. There’s nobody to blame, but that’s because there’s nothing to be blamed for, because there’s nothing on but a series of cliche. It’s like getting mad at the city in a toy train set.

Megan Harrington: This beauty and skincare website I’m fairly into is currently trying to invent a heavy cream and they’re at the stage where they crowdsource thoughts on heavy creams. What becomes quickly apparent in this and any activity like it is that while there might be popular responses, there might be qualities nearly everyone agrees on, there’s nothing perfect. Chris Stapleton — and “Nobody to Blame” represents this as equally as anything on Traveller — sounds like someone made that crowdsourced cream but this time the product was “classic country rocker.” There is something so strangely inanimate about his music. Technically, it sounds fine, maybe even good or very occasionally great, but it’s always inert, like the wrong notes were scripted. Ultimately, this feels faker than something obviously glossy and airbrushed because it’s supposed to be so real, such the thing country listeners were desperate to hear again. It’s nothing I’d reach to turn off, but I’m not sinking into any grooves or rubbing against any rough edges either. 

Alfred Soto: This blues-country synthesis is a listenable simulation. What feeds my suspicion is Stapleton himself, who sings as if his blues-country lineage were stuck down his throat and one good wretch will free them. Nobody to blame but him.

Reader average: [6] (1 vote)

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4 Responses to “Chris Stapleton – Nobody to Blame”

  1. nobody to blame/ body but me/ body but us

  2. Took me just a moment to remember Reba did Fancy. I was wondering how Iggy proved country bonafides

  3. particularly great work here everyone

  4. Megan completely OTM here.