He’s country music’s most bipartisan presence.
Is there any aisle Chris Stapleton can’t cross?
With his outlaw country roots, he resonates with traditionalists.
And yet, as a songwriter, he’s collaborated with contemporary bro-country stars such as Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Dierks Bentley and plenty more.
He even goes over with the squares at the Grammys, where he’s won five trophies over the course of three solo albums.
Stapleton has penned hits with pop stars, opened for Guns N’ Roses and, in an obvious career highlight, had a song he wrote featured on the soundtrack of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.”
How has he done it?
Here’s a 10-song primer on Stapleton’s deep, wide-ranging catalog:
Country cuss/rhinestone belt buckle aficionado David Allan Coe initially popularized this early ’80s country standard about being stoned on a woman’s love — while most likely being stoned on a variety of other things. Stapleton brings some serious ache to this bluesy cover, his voice a yo-yo of emotion, on one of his breakout hits from his 2015 debut “Traveller.”
“Drink a Beer”
Frat-boy-country kingpin Luke Bryan got some much-needed gravitas from this Stapleton-penned tearjerker about losing a loved one, which he took to the top of the charts in 2014. Bryan may be the country equivalent of a Stepford Wife with his megawatt perma-smile and air of plasticity, but style gets balanced with substance here.
Pass the Funyuns and Visine, as Stapleton joins the proud, Taco Bell-craving tradition of the country weed song on “Stems,” a raucous, harmonica-fired foot stomper about the bottom-of-the-bag blues. Hey, it worked for Willie. And Waylon. And the pizza delivery guy.
“Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”
When the bottle starts talkin’, it tells a whole mess of white lies on this boozy hoedown from the self-titled 2008 debut from Tennessee bluegrass troupe The SteelDrivers, whom Stapleton fronted before leaving in 2010. “First shot burns / But the second one goes down smooth,” Stapleton sings over a bed of banjo. “Then that old black label gets a hold of you.” This one certainly doesn’t loosen its grip.
“If It Hadn’t Been for Love”
Speaking of The SteelDrivers, this prison-bound murder ballad first appeared on their debut. Then an all-time great British belter covered it. No, we’re not talking about Napalm Death frontman Barney Greenway, but rather Adele, who took it from the jailhouse to the top of the charts as the B-side to smash single “Rollin’ in the Deep.”
“I’m ready to r-a-a-a-a-w-w-w-k-k!” Stapleton announces via full-throated, bartender-get-me-another! howl on this amps-to-11 rager from the 2010 self-titled debut of The Jompson Brothers, whom Stapleton helmed before going solo. Jason Aldean often prefaces his shows by blaring this one through the P.A., as it’s the kind of song that gets one ready to, you know, r-a-a-a-a-w-w-w-k-k!
“A Simple Song”
Stapleton honors the time-tested country trope of checklisting a world of hurts that a song’s protagonist must endure: broken-down truck, unemployed sister, sick father, high cholesterol. But then he flips the script on this spare acoustic standout featured on “From A Room: Volume 2.” “But I love my life,” he sings in unison with his wife, Morgane, toward whom the song could very well be directed. “It’s the way it’s all right / When everything goes wrong / It’s the sound of a slow, simple song.”
“Second One to Know”
Stapleton’s R&B and Southern rock roots come intertwined like strands of DNA here. Channeling the blue-eyed soul of vintage Michael McDonald on the mic and the slippery guitar bluster of prime Lynyrd Skynyrd on the fretboard, Stapleton lets ’er rip on this raucous live favorite from “Traveller.”
Speaking of blued-eye soul, Justin Timberlake just might be the most popular contemporary purveyor of as much. Fitting then, for him to invite Stapleton to co-write a trio of tunes on his latest record, “Man of the Woods.” On this one, the biggest hit of the three thus far, Stapleton trades verses with Timberlake, sounding comfortable in a finger-snapping, sub-gospel context, proving that he can make a home just about anywhere — even atop the pop charts.
“Trying to Untangle My Mind”
The blues are best for cataloging all those inner demons pitchforking one’s soul. “Well, I’ve made a lot of choices that were wrong / Let a good love spend too many nights alone,” Stapleton confesses over a lazy guitar swing on one of his bluesiest numbers, off “From A Room: Volume 2.” “And I’ve been out on the edge / And I’ve stumbled ’cross the line.” Thorough it all, though, Stapleton remains unbowed. “Well, I do what I do and I don’t know why,” he acknowledges. “But I’ll do what I do, till the day I die.”
Who: Chris Stapleton
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena, 2799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Tickets: $49 and up (866-799-7711)
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.