On paper, Chris Stapleton is a superstar.
Three Grammy nominations, a stint in the critically acclaimed bluegrass band the SteelDrivers, songwriting collaborations with everyone from Vince Gill to Sheryl Crow and a slew of number one singles sung by Nashville heavyweights: George Strait, Kenny Chesney and Darius Rucker — Stapleton is, as far as Nashville’s concerned, a bold-faced name.
But Thursday night, jammed inside a sold-out, stifling City Tavern in downtown Dallas, the 37-year-old Kentucky native was just another hungry troubadour grinding it out on the road, albeit one just 48 hours removed from his national television debut on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Stapleton’s budding solo career is fast catching up with his resume, however, if the audience’s reaction to nearly every song is any indication.
The singer-songwriter’s major label solo debut, Traveller, is due out May 5, and he showcased several superb tracks from the forthcoming LP, including the stirring title track, Whiskey and You, the set-opening Nobody to Blame and Outlaw State of Mind.
In between, the guitar-slinging Stapleton, backed by his wife, Morgan Stapleton, on vocals, a drummer and a bassist, sprinkled a few covers throughout the 50-minute set, demonstrating the breadth of his influences: George Jones’s Tennessee Whiskey; Tom Petty’s You Don’t Know How It Feels and Waylon Jennings’ Amanda.
Each was lovingly rendered, with the heavily bearded Stapleton’s appealing, gruff voice making Whiskey burn sweetly, just as he wrung every bit of pain and regret from Amanda.
His original material, full of references to booze, women and the combustion resulting from combining the two, elicited plenty of spirited whoops, sing-alongs and toasts with longneck bottles (this was the sort of show where audience members bought shots of Jack Daniel’s for the band, and they happily obliged).
Like Sturgill Simpson, another traditional country-minded Kentuckian before him, the gifted Stapleton gently updates a distinctly ‘70s sensibility for the 21st century — the Highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson and Conway Twitty weren’t dealing with smartphones recording nearly every moment of their performances, but damned if the sentiment doesn’t feel the same anyway.
With a decade’s worth of experience in Music City’s trenches, it’s not a question of whether Stapleton will make it, but when. (The DFW area has another chance to catch him in an intimate space this weekend: Stapleton is playing Good Records’ day-long Record Store Day celebration at noon Saturday.)
Hey, if he maintains his current pace, he could be headlining Billy Bob’s Texas by this time next year.
Opener Clare Dunn, a self-described “farm girl from the middle of nowhere,” provided a fine opening set, 40 minutes of ferocious guitar work, passionate vocals and a go-for-broke take on Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll that nearly ripped the roof off.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713