One of my favourite music video websites is Tiny Desk Concerts. These are produced by NPR Music in the USA, a public and privately funded broadcast organisation. It is closer to the BBC in model and is the antithesis of Sky/Fox.
There have been some cracking Tiny Desk Concerts through the years. I blogged about the Oddisee one here. The website is very literal – they are small concerts performed in the middle of a bunch of desks. They are very intimate and quite often the songs get a different treatment from the familiar version.
I was looking through the youtube feed in December and came across a concert that I thought was just fantastic.
Chris Stapleton was performing with his wife Morgane. It was by necessity acoustic and intimate. Now I may be the last person to be aware of Chris Stapleton seeing as he was nominated for four Grammys last year but I suspect his audience outside the USA is a damned sight smaller that his domestic following.
He has written number one songs – even Adele has covered one so he can hardly be described as underground. He’s played in a couple of bands through the years but has only just released his debut album “Traveller”.
The desk concert showed the acoustic balladry aspect of his music but the album covers blues and soul too. He was last year’s success story in country music but in truth, he’s as much country as Neil Young or the Black Crowes – yes there are significant country aspects to their music but it doesn’t tell the full story. The record has been on a loop for the last couple of weeks in Black Country Towers and it is a hit with the whole family.
Stapleton in fairness doesn’t seem a natural live performer. He shies away at times, avoiding eye contact. The voice and the quality of the songs eclipses this reticence though. There is depth and richness to his voice and whilst the songs do cover the usual country bases, they do so with humour, such as the following from “Whiskey And You”.
I’ve got a problem but it ain’t what you think,
I drink because I’m lonesome and I’m lonesome ’cause I drink
The record sounds like he has been waiting his whole life to make it. There are many highlights. The title track is also the opener and is a gentle introduction featuring some lovely steel guitar. “When The Stars Come Out” would sit comfortably on a Ryan Adams’ record. “Might As Well Get Stoned” is hard rocking and the closer “Sometimes I Cry” is a beautiful slow soul burner.
Since I found the concert, there’s a plethora of Stapleton footage on the internet.
First up here’s where I started. This is “More Of You” from the Desk Concert.
He’s duetting with his wife here. It’s clear to see the bond between them. The intimacy is evident on this beautiful song:
Everything that you do, it makes me want more of you
When I leave the earth you’ll be holding my hand
And it gives me comfort to know that you’ll be there
They met in Nashville writing in adjacent publishing houses. They’ve got two kids and remain Music City.
The next one is a cover of a George Jones song. It’s on the LP but here’s a version from the Country Music Awards. The kicker here is the duet with Justin Timberlake and it ramps up the soulful aspect of Stapleton’s style. I’ve got a soft spot for Timberlake – he’s a real talent as a musician and actor.
The three voices work perfectly with the gruffness of Stapleton’s approaching a Bobby Womack quality offset by Timberlake’s sweetness of tone. We’re into Smokey Robinson territory. The horns and the Hammond organ just keep that Southern feeling coming. The version touches on Etta James’ version of “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Here’s how the version came about.
It’s always been a favorite song of mine. We had a show in Charlottesville, and we were sound checking, waiting around for the mics to get set up. Me and the guys in the band started playing a little bit and got into that groove, so I started thinking, “Man, what song could I sing over top of this?“ For whatever reason, I started singing “Tennessee Whiskey.”
At the time, we had a steel player by the name of Steve Hinson who used to play with George Jones on the road—maybe that was part of the equation. But we decided to do the song that night and every night since. By the time we got into the studio, it was something we all enjoyed playing. It’s a part of the fabric of things that influenced me over the years.
He’s obviously got friends in high places as there is a clip of him at John Lennon’s 75th Birthday concert with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson covering the Beatle’s “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”.
The final song is from five years ago. The song is “Fool Me Again” and we are into Ray Charles territory here – his voice really is that good.
There is more fantastic stuff out there. He does a slower bluesy version of “Folson Prison Blues”. There’s a version of James Brown “It’s a Man’s World” which is pretty faithful to the original as is his version of the Band’s “The Weight”, performed with Eric Church.
I missed him live recently as I didn’t fancy trekking over to the O2. Here’s hoping that he plays somewhere a little more amenable soon.