I could listen to this guy sing the phone book.
Assuming they still delivered those tomes to my doorstep.
We live in a distraction economy. If Jesus came back, there’s no doubt most in attendance would be glued to their mobile phones, checking up on what was happening in their personal lives. No matter how riveting what’s happening on stage might be, the audience can’t peel its eyes away from their screens. But then there are acts so riveting you don’t want to look down, you don’t want to miss a moment, not because there’s dancing or projection but because you feel you’re in the presence of genius, a musician channeling truth from the heavens. You don’t want to miss a note, because before long the act will leave the stage and you’ll be left all alone, empty.
This is the way it used to be. When music drove the culture and the best and the brightest picked up an instrument, or became A&R people, promoters or agents, just to get closer to the sound, the magic. How come Chris Stapleton can tread this path when seemingly no one else can? How can this aged overweight bearded denizen be our savior in a nation of false prophets?
It’s not like he’s been hidden. He wrote songs, he had bands, and then he hooked up with Dave Cobb and the zeitgeist was captured. Suddenly, we were all clued in. Never underestimate the power of a producer. Not someone who writes the songs, but someone who can get the act’s best self down on wax.
I’m not sure what kind of music this is. Because it sounds like nothing else, on the radio or off. What they call rock today is noisy and aggressive, it’s not so much in the pocket as an assault on your being, its purveyors caught up in the trappings, the tattoos and the leather, as opposed to the music. And the country hit parade is peopled with those stuck in the seventies, with a sound that’s a retread of that era’s AOR. And hip-hop is the sound of the street, but it’s sans melody, it’s less soulful than intellectual, sure, you feel the beat, but it appeals more to your head than the heart.
And then we’ve got Chris Stapleton.
“Broken Halos” is like Skynyrd, if that band slowed down and was more Nashville than Florida.
“Broken Halos” has got the outsider vibe of Steve Earle, but it’s closer to rock than country, it’s less something you play in a bar drinking beer than play as you’re rolling down the highway, with the windows down, nodding your head as the song provides the soundtrack to what you see through the windshield.
“Broken Halos” sounds like nothing on the hit parade, in any format, but it’s somehow more immediate and soulful and touching than any of those cuts.
What is music? Is it passive? That’s what drove Pandora, people listening in the background. Me, I want my tunes more foreground, I want them to be my life, I’m looking for life rings to grab onto as they pull me to a better land where I’m understood and happy, an alternative universe where all the b.s. of everyday life, the duplicity, the getting ahead, is nonexistent. A land where the front rows are not peopled by hedge funders because they’re out of the loop. That’s right, when music moved from AM to FM, most were out of the loop. And then MTV united us in song and now the commentators say we should love the pop, but unlike the music of yore it’s a sideshow that requires little attention.
And then you hear something like “Broken Halos.”
It’s slight. Absent the twists and turns and explosions that Max Martin employs. The song is simple. But the delivery is over the top, without trying to be so. Chris Stapleton opens his mouth and truth comes out, he’s not trying to impress us, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to. It’s the antidote to the manipulated music of today, with its multiple writers and remixes. It feels like there’s a band in the studio and they just rolled tape.
I’ve seen my share of broken halos, bands that I used to live for that sold out to the man, signed up for the sponsorships, live for the privates.
Angels came down and delivered me and then they disappeared, not only Jimi and Janis, but so many more.
And Chris Stapleton is resonating. It’s not like he’s a sideshow, he’s become the main show, he’s the most revered man in Music City, and you don’t have to live in Nashville to like him.
Is this a harbinger of what’s to come or a one-off?
I’m not sure.
But in an era where no one can follow up the hit, Stapleton is not scared by his success, he’s continuing to plow the path, going where his instincts tell us as opposed to the social media/mainstream grinder, which demands you give it what it wants, even though no one really wants that.
I can’t turn “Broken Halos” off. Not because it’s such a good song, but because it makes me feel good, alive, reminds me of what once and hopefully can be once more.