music review

Chris Stapleton proves ready for the big country stage

Chris Stapleton performing in Nashville last November.
Amy Harris/Invision/AP
Chris Stapleton performing in Nashville last November.

Friday night, Chris Stapleton remarked that his appearance at the Xfinity Center was the first show he’d played as a headliner in Boston. By evening’s end, it was evident that the headliner-sized Boston crowd he was playing for had made something of an impression. When Stapleton started into the soaring “Fire Away,” their responding roar after just a few notes clearly left him taken aback, and his wife, Morgane, who as always was singing alongside him, lifting her hands to her face in disbelief. It led Stapleton to remark that it was one of the best shows he’d ever played, and the remark seemed more than just stage patter.

Stapleton and company gave as good as they got over the course of their two-hour performance. The singer/songwriter/guitar-slinger is the latest unlikely success story in mainstream country, and he was sporting some of the accouterments of the headliner status he referred to with a swooping lighting structure that curved overhead. But it wasn’t the elaborate affair typical of country headliners, but an elegant backdrop that was as lean as the band performing under it — a four-piece that, when Morgane Stapleton stepped off on a couple of occasions, further slimmed to a power trio that went deep blues (in the case of “Death Row”) and Southern rock (for Stapleton’s intense rendition of Charlie Daniels’s “Was It 26”).

Of course, Stapleton’s outlier status is rooted in the music he plays, and Friday’s 20 songs provided an ample serving of his singular amalgam of outlaw and other traditional strands of country, blues, and rock. “Parachute,” “Nobody to Blame,” and “Them Stems” put the drive (and often, gutbucket blues) in his country. “Traveller” brought classic country themes and a laid-back sound, and new song “Hard Living” what Stapleton labeled “good old-fashioned hillbilly music.” “Midnight Train to Memphis” injected electricity (and a Bo Diddley beat) into a song he wrote during his earlier outlier foray as a member of bluegrass outfit the SteelDrivers. A solo performance of “Whiskey and You” offered Stapleton’s version — “the way it sounded the day I wrote it” — of a song Tim McGraw did something with.


All of it was shot through with Stapleton’s rangy guitar work, and the expressive, gravelly rasp of his singing, often intertwined with his wife’s harmonizing. That intertwining — and the Stapletons’ musical and life partnership to which it points — is another singular aspect of his (or their) music, a feature that was beautifully illustrated by another moment Friday. When Stapleton sang the acoustic love ballad “More of You,” he spent the entire song looking directly at his wife, and she at him.

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Stapleton brought a fine double dose of old-school with him as openers: outlaw country in the form of Brent Cobb and soul with the revue-style performance of Anderson East.

Chris Stapleton

At: Xfinity Center, Mansfield, July 14.

Stuart Munro can be reached at