Chris Stapleton’s new album Starting Over is one of this year’s top new country music albums if not the best of that category. Originally planned for release in August, the 14 song release was pushed back to Nov. 13. As with his past three albums, this his fourth album will appeal to any country music purist with its musical arrangements and lyrical content alike. That is proven throughout, as there is not one bad song featured in this record. One of the most notable of the album’s songs is ‘Watch You Burn,’ which is his reaction to the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas at a country music concert. This song will be discussed shortly. ‘Maggie’s Song,’ which is a tribute to his dog, (yes, his dog) is another truly notable addition to the album. This tearjerker will be discussed a little later. ‘Arkansas,’ the album’s lead single, is yet another example of what makes the album such a strong new offering from Stapleton, and hardly the last of the album’s most notable works. When it and the other songs noted here are considered along with the likes of ‘Hillbilly Blood, ‘Joy of My Life,’ and his covers of ‘Whiskey Sunrise’ and ‘Worry B Gone,’ and the rest of the album’s entries, the record in whole proves itself without question, to be one of the year’s top new country music albums.
Starting Over is an unquestionably successful new offering from country music star Chris Stapleton. From start to end, the 14-song record offers audiences nothing but enjoyment. That is proven in part through one of the album’s late entries, ‘Watch You Burn.’ This four-minute opus is anchored by a steady, plodding blues-infused guitar and bass line. The steady drum beat that sounds more like a boot stomping on the floor adds even more depth to the song as Stapleton, with his trademark gritty vocal delivery style, sings alongside it all. The gradual crescendo of the arrangement as the song progresses serves well to help translate the anger clearly felt by Stapelton as he wrote the song’s lyrics.
The lyrical content in question is just as simple yet powerful as its companion musical content. Stapleton writes in response to the actions of that coward who took 58 innocent lives and injured more than 800 others, “Only a coward would pick up a gun/And shoot up a crowd trying to have fun/now the Vegas lights/They won’t lose their glow/And the band will play on/And go on with the show.” The statement is perfectly clear here. This is an angry, yet defiant statement in response to what happened, making sure any potential copycats will know that even this horrible event will not and did not stop joy from returning to Las Vegas and to America. This is made just as clear in the song’s second verse, in which Stapleton sings, “I wasn’t there/I didn’t see/But I had friends in your company/If I could snap my fingers/If I could flip a switch/I’d make that last bullet first, you son of a bitch.” He adds in the song’s chorus, “You’re gonna get your turn/Yes, you’re gonna get your turn/Oh, you’re gonna get your turn/Devil gonna watch you burn.” This is such a simple song lyrically, just as much as it is musically, but that simple, clear statement made in the song’s lyrical content is so hard-hitting in its own right. Stapleton isn’t trying to wax philosophical about gun control here. He is just responding to the person who pulled the trigger and caused all of that sadness and pain. That person in question does not even deserve to have his name placed in print, so it will not even be used here. All things considered here, this song is one of so many powerful additions to Starting Over. Another notable addition to the record come in the form of the absolute tearjerker, ‘Maggie’s Song.’
Maggie’s Song’ is a work that pays tribute to Stapleton’s canine companion, and just as in the case of ‘Watch You Burn,’ every aspect of this song makes it stand out, beginning with its musical arrangement. The arrangement in question is simple in its own right, anchored by Stapelton’s vocal delivery and performance on guitar. The addition of the brushes gently keeping the beat on the snare and the piano and organ makes for ever more enjoyment and engagement in this pure classic country style composition. The fullness of the arrangement in the chorus set against the gentle nature of the song in its verses adds even more to that enjoyment and engagement. When all of this is considered with the song’s equally moving lyrical presentation, the whole of the song becomes even more impacting.
As noted, ‘Maggie’s Song’ is a tribute to Stapleton’s dog, and the lyrical tribute that he presents to the dog is such that it will leave not one listener dry-eyed by its end. Stapleton said of the song in a recent National Public Radio interview of the song, “I wrote [Maggie’s Song] the day after our dog, Maggie, passed away. We had her for 14 years and I miss her quite a bit. I’m not really a dog person, either, that’s worth saying. But I loved that dog for sure. Every word of that song is just a true thing.” He writes in the song’s lead verse, “Let me tell you a story/About an old friend of mine/Somebody left her in a shopping cart/In a parking lot for us to find/Just a fuzzy black pup/She was hungry and feeling alone/We put her in the back seat/And told her we were taking her home.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “A few kids later/We moved out on the farm/And she followed those kids around/Yeah, she kept them safe from harm/And she loved to chase squirrels/And playing out in the snow/She’d take off like a bullet/Man, you should have seen her go.” The song’s third and fourth verses are where the pain comes in, with Stapleton singing, “It was raining on a Monday/The day that Maggie died/She woke up and couldn’t use her legs/So I laid down by her side/She put her head on my hand/Like she’d done so many times/I told her she was a good dog/Then I told her goodbye/I had a revelation/As the tractor dug a hole/I can tell you right now/That a dog has a soul/And I thought to myself/As we buried her on the hill/I never knew me a better dog/And I guess I never will.” All of this make the song’s chorus even more heart-wrenching, as he sings about the song running free again in an almost eulogistic style. He sings here, “Run, Maggie run/With the heart of a rebel child/Oh, run, Maggie run/Be just as free as you are wild.” Again, any listener who is left dry-eyed as a result of this is either not human or simply hard hearted. It is such a stark emotional contrast to the presentation of ‘Watch You Burn’ and the record’s other songs and shows so much vulnerability from Stapleton that it will be no doubt when this song becomes one of the album’s singles. It is just one more of the album’s most notable entries, too. ‘Arkansas’ is yet another strong addition to the album.
‘Arkansas’ is just as starkly unlike the other songs noted here as it is to the rest of the album’s entries, too. That applies musically and lyrically. The song is just a feel good composition all the way around that exudes so much happiness. Stapleton himself even said in an interview with KATV in October that the song just about himself and some others driving “Like a bat out of hell through the Ozark Mountains.” The energy in that raucous adventure is translated in part through the song’s arrangement. The arrangement in question is a high-energy, guitar-driven southern rock song. Its guitar licks are completely infectious and still stick in listeners’ minds. The energy in the song’s arrangement couples with the song’s lyrical content, which tells the story of which Stapleton talked in his interview, to cement the song’s enjoyment and engagement.
Stapleton sings in the song’s lead verse, “Took a nine eleven ‘bout a hundred and seven down a back road/Where the white river runs/And the southern sun makes the kudzu grow/And what I found in the Ozark mountains I ain’t never seen/It sure does feel like you’re sittin’ on top of the world to me.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “We, we burned through the one light towns like a scalded dog/When we lit out of Fayetteville/they were callin’ the hogs/We made a pit stop in Little Rock for some barbecue/And when we hit West Memphis/There were blue lights in our rear.” Between the verses, he sings in the song’s chorus, “Gotta get down/Gotta get down to Arkansas/Havin’ so much fun that it’s probably a little bit against the law/Al lthe boys and the girls down there sure do know how to have a ball/If you wanna get down/get down to Arkansas.” Again, here is a song that is just fondly remembering a past experience that Stapleton and his friends had. The joy exuded in the song’s musical and lyrical content is a stark contrast to the bittersweet emotion presented in ‘Maggie’s Song’ and the anger in ‘Watch You Burn.’ When that vast range of emotions and stories is considered with the equally wide range of emotions and stories featured in the rest of the album’s songs, the whole of the album becomes a work that every listener will enjoy from beginning to end.
Starting Over is a powerful new statement from country superstar Chris Stapleton. It is a work that presents such original stories and equally enjoyable and engaging musical content. Even with the covers in mind that are featured here, the album still holds so much positive content. All three of the songs examined here serve to suppor the noted statement. When they are considered with the rest of the noted songs, the whole of the album leaves no doubt that this record is one of the best new country music album of the year. It is available now.
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