First Listen: Chris Stapleton, 'Traveller'

April 27, 2015 3:00 AM

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Even the most seemingly organic contemporary country albums — the ones by often-awarded "authentic" artists like Miranda Lambert and Eric Church — can sometimes show evidence of a checklist. Eager to prove both currency and adherence to tradition, these more daring country stars range over predetermined territory, showing familiarity with Southern musical landmarks like the blue hills, the swamp, the honky-tonk and the arena-rock amphitheater. There's almost always a funny song on these album, and a family-focused tearjerker; there are numerous references to hard liquor and soft-focused rural landscapes. There's some fast picking and power-chord riffing, and a soulful moment that hits purposeful transcendence. The best artists perform this predictable eclecticism with skill and passion; they do care about, and have fun with, country's touchstones. That said, a listener can anticipate each required turn, like the compulsory elements in an Olympic skating routine.

On his debut solo album, Traveller, Chris Stapleton has the double axels and triple jumps down, but he delivers each with a remarkable lack of showiness, so that each one feels like much more than an exercise. Partly — mostly, maybe — this is because of his voice, which became one of Nashville's mos...

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