There are few voices as enthralling and well-worn as Chris Stapleton’s. Following his tenure as frontman of the SteelDrivers and writing hits for others, he has carved out his own unique path to greatness. He let’s the music do the talking, without much other fuss or smoke and mirrors. We all know the story: it wasn’t until the 2015 CMA Awards that the greater country community became aware of his mighty talents. It doesn’t matter the setting, Stapleton could draw gutting emotion from the mountains, from the earth quaking beneath his booming voice, from the water floating carelessly on the ocean.
Now, with two solo studio albums under his belt, his legacy is already beginning to cement. But the music alone couldn’t do it; his live show is a marvel to behold and indescribable unless you see it first-hand. Thankfully, we have YouTube to at least give us the essence of his power.
10 Best Performances from Chris Stapleton:
“Amanda” with Morgane Stapleton (2013 Grand Ole Opry)
Wanna be absolutely knocked off your feet? Two years before the release of his debut album, Stapleton (joined by his wife and fellow power singer Morgane) stopped by the Grand Ole Opry to perform a stunning rendition of Don Williams’ 1973 song “Amanda”–the song was also famously recorded by Waylon Jennings. Morgane’s background vocals are utterly raw and mesmerizing. When is her solo album dropping, by the way?
“If It Hadn’t Been for Love” with the Steeldrivers (2010 WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour)
The mid-tempo track is swampy and sits in Stapleton’s sweet spot, allowing him to dig into his lower register, as well as showcase his bellowing higher notes. The song caught the attention of pop singer Adele, who famously covered it on her juggernaut album 21 and performed it numerous times on tour. But there is something incredibly special about the original. Nothing can compare.
“Broken Halos” (2017, Howard Stern radio show)
The opener to his sophomore solo album, this ode to the downtrodden in Nashville is stark and poetic. Stapleton picks up a guitar and delivers one of his clearest and most impassioned performances ever. There is really no doubting he’s one of the best male vocalists to come along in decades after this. We are bettin’ on it.
It’s the performance heard ’round the world. What more is there to say? The mashup of two very soul-inspired songs were conquered by two excellent live performers, and the rest is history.
“Fire Away” with Morgane Stapleton (2015 VEVO DSCR series)
A song about mental illness, Stapleton doesn’t shy away from show the crippling devastation. His interpreter skillset is especially powerful when he strips a song to its bones. With his wonderfully talented wife joining him, this performance is one of the history books.
“Midnight Train to Memphis” with the Steeldrivers (2008 at Grey Fox Bluegrass)
Stapleton can inhabit any genre you toss his way, and he shines ever brighter stepping into bluegrass. The format is a nice, snuggly blanket for his rough ‘n tumble vocals. Of course, Carter Family pickin’ is where he got his start and has undeniably influenced his own solo work.
“Seven Spanish Angels” with Dwight Yoakam (2016 CMA Awards)
If you ever need a reminder of country rich heritage, this performance (a cover of the 1984 hit by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles) encapsulates it all. Featuring Spanish mariachi horns in the arrangement, the song is entrancing, made even better by Yoakam’s slow-burning twang and Stapleton’s tender growl. Morgane Stapleton once again makes a sterling appearance, and we certainly don’t mind.
“Fool Me Again” (2008 Rocking the Boat: A Musical Conversation and Journey)
Nearly 10 years ago, Stapleton still had that raw, raspy draw. Maybe he was just born with that powerful voice already fully developed? Who knows. All we know is this intimate acoustic moment is one of his finest of his entire career.
“You are My Sunshine” with Morgane Stapleton (2013 at Eddie’s Attic)
This classic country song has been covered too many times to count. From Johnny Cash, Gene Autry and Bing Crosby to Aretha Franklin and Anne Murray, the sweeping ballad represents the heart of American-made music. All the other versions are just fine, in their own way, but the Stapleton duo take it to new heights. The intermingling of their voices could be the 8th Wonder of the World.
“Sometimes I Cry” (2013 Bing Lounge)
There is such simplicity to this performance, but he manages to make it into a firestorm, wrenching his heart away and catapulting it across the world. Just watch: