Eight months after releasing the best-selling country album of the year, Chris Stapleton is back with a companion piece. From A Room: Volume 2 arrives December 1st, delivering another batch of songs culled from Stapleton’s Library of Congress-sized back catalog. It’s lean and live-sounding, with hands-off production by Dave Cobb – who captures each song with minimal knob-twiddling, shining some honest light on a working band that’s logged countless stage hours since Traveller‘s 2015 release – and plenty of guitar solos from the industry’s most unsung instrumentalist. Stapleton’s voice remains as titanic ever, but on these nine tracks, he packs an equally sized punch as both picker and bandleader. Volume 2 isn’t just about songs in RCA Studio A (the “room” in the title); it’s about the people occupying that studio too, and Stapleton keeps fine company throughout.
1. “Millionaire” (Kevin Welch)
Originally recorded by Kevin Welch, “Millionaire” gets a swinging, Heartbreakers-worthy update by Stapleton and company, who turn the tune into a soulful blast of heartland rock. The song’s secret weapon: Morgane Stapleton, whose harmonies trace her husband’s melodies at every twist and turn.
2. “Hard Livin'” (Chris Stapleton, Kendell Marvel)
Stapleton summons the ghost of Waylon Jennings with this song’s phase-shifted guitar riff, renewing his outlaw stripes along the way. Before the final solo, he lets a loud, lawless “Wooo!” escape from his throat, proof that recording “Hard Livin'” was easier than its title suggests. File this stomping Southern rocker alongside Traveller‘s “Nobody to Blame.”
With a Celtic-sounding verse and a haunting, minor-key chorus, “Scarecrow in the Garden” is the album’s first non-anthem, trading the bombast of the first two tracks for something more reminiscent of an old-school murder ballad. During the song’s final moments, Stapleton paints a gripping picture of a farmer at the end of his rope. “I was sitting here all night / With a Bible in my left hand and a pistol in my right,” he sings.
4. “Nobody’s Lonely Tonight” (Stapleton, Mike Henderson)
Written with ex-SteelDriver Mike Henderson, this low-and-slow soul ballad borrows some of its movements from the Great American Songbook, sounding like something Cole Porter might’ve written after too many drunken nights in the Delta.
5. “Tryin’ to Untangle My Mind” (Stapleton, Jaren Boyer, Marvel)
“I’m lonesome and stoned, so far down the Devil’s looking high,” Stapleton sings, embodying one of his most familiar characters: the tortured, heartbroken protagonist who’s looking for relief in all the wrong places. Behind him, the band kicks up plenty of bluesy dust.
6. “A Simple Song” (Stapleton, Darrell Hayes)
The title says it all. Unhurried and unplugged, “A Simple Song” sketches its storyline in broad strokes. There’s a factory worker, a broken family and a romance that’s keeping the narrator afloat. Like “Drunkard’s Prayer,” it’s one of the most intimate songs on the album, reminiscent of older tunes like “Whiskey and You.”
7. “Midnight Train to Memphis” (Stapleton, Henderson)
A booming, burly rocker, “Midnight Train to Memphis” finds Stapleton in jail, serving a 40-day sentence while a distant train wails its horn outside the prison walls. The whole riff is built upon a monster guitar riff, injecting venom and vitriol into Volume 2‘s final stretch.
8. “Drunkard’s Prayer” (Stapleton, Jameson Clark)
“I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees,” Stapleton bellows, playing the part of a broken, boozy man who hopes God will be more forgiving of his sins than the woman who recently left him. The guitar pattern echoes Willie Nelson’s reading of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and like that song, “Drunkard’s Prayer” is delivered entirely alone, a move that drives home the song’s lonely message.
9. “Friendship” (Homer Banks, Lester Snell)
Bookending the album with another cover tune, “Friendship” finds Stapleton singing a forgotten country-soul number from the Stax archives. The Staples Singers’ patriarch, Pops Staples, recorded the song shortly before his death, and Stapleton’s version updates the original with deeper groves and gorgeous guitar tremolo.