Chris Stapleton Reaches New Heights On ‘Higher’
Stapleton sweetly dedicated the 14-track project to his wife, Morgane.
Chris Stapleton; Photo Courtesy CMA, Hunter Berry
For months, fans have been anticipating the arrival of Chris Stapleton’s new album, Higher. With the official unveiling today, November 10, it’s evident through even just one listen that the collection elevates Stapleton’s signature sound while leaning more heavily into his love for his wife, Morgane Stapleton, than ever before.
This Is Stapleton At His Best
Listeners have already gotten to know the album a bit through advanced releases of “It Takes A Woman,” “Think I’m In Love With You,” and his single, “White Horse,” the highest charting debut for the country superstar at Mediabase with an entry at No. 31. However, there is much more in store among the remaining new tracks, starting with the opener “What Am I Gonna Do,” which Stapleton co-penned alongside fellow country star Miranda Lambert.
Resurfacing A Past Co-Write With Lambert
Stapleton and Lambert have gotten into the writing room together on a number of occasions over the years. When it came time to start building out new songs for this record, he called up his longtime friend with hopes of resurfacing a song that came from one of their past writes.
“I was like, ‘Hey, do you remember that song?’ I could only remember half the song and I didn’t have a copy… I was like, ‘Do you have a copy of this song?’ And she was kind enough to go looking for it and digging for it, and she found it and so we could cut it, and that’s how it wound up on the record was she was kind enough to dig a little bit,” Stapleton told Today’s Country Radio with Kelleigh Bannen on Apple Music Country.
“I don’t think people talk about what a great songwriter she is enough. We all know that she’s a great singer and entertainer and all those things, but she’s a really great country songwriter,” he shared of Lambert’s talent.
“What Am I Gonna Do” leads into an uplifting message of “Trust” and bluesy rock sounds in “South Dakota.” He then continues with “The Fire,” a tune that introduces a fresh sound for Stapleton with its earthy tones and flame of emotions that burn inside of him when he hears his partner’s name. “Loving You On My Mind” has a more sultry groove to it as he fills the sound with alluring guitar riffs and a passionate delivery that finds him daydreaming about the kind of loving that he can’t get off his mind.
How A 22-Year-Old Song Became The Title Track
In the midst of all the alt-rock, country, and tenderhearted songs Stapleton unleashes the title track, “Higher,” a solo write that’s been waiting in the wings since 2001.
“’Higher’ is a song that’s been around a long, long time. I wrote it in 2001 in the first few months of being a professional songwriter here in Nashville, and it was on the first demo session that I ever did here in Nashville. So, for it to come around 22 years later and wind up being the title track of an album is a pretty unique thing to me,” Stapleton shared with his label.
While the entire album is a profession of love to Morgane, Stapleton’s “The Day I Die” represents one of the most powerful displays of just how deep his feelings lie. The song is fueled by the magnitude of pain that can come from a heartbreak so devastating it’s almost fatal. Then we hear “Weight of your World,” a promise to his wife that he will always be “the light that leads you home” and “the hand that helps you along.”
The album comes to a close with the wonderings of “Mountains Of My Mind,” a poetic solo write that offers a glimpse into his thoughts as he reflects on the need to step outside out his own mind in search of some salvation and understanding of his path of life.
On Working Alongside His Wife, Morgane
Higher comes eight years after the release of the seven-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year’s debut album, Traveller. Throughout the 14 tracks recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studio A, he showcases his transition into the next, passion-driven chapter of his longstanding music career.
Alongside Stapleton (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide electric guitar), the album features Cobb (acoustic guitar, eclectic guitar), J.T. Cure (bass), Paul Franklin (pedal steel), Derek Mixon (drums), Morgane (background vocals, synthesizer, tambourine), and Lee Pardini (organ, piano). The GRAMMY-winning artist also serves as a producer alongside Dave Cobb and his muse, Morgane Stapleton. Together, they took a more natural approach to production as they let the power of instrumentals guide the tunes.
During his recent interview on Apple Music Country, the “Tennessee Whiskey” singer also discussed working alongside Morgane, and her desire to remain out of the spotlight.
“[Morgane] doesn’t like the attention necessarily, and she does it because I do it. She likes to do it with me because I enjoy doing it,” he shared. “She would be very happy staying home and doing mom stuff, and she likes music and she is very passionate about music, but some of the other things that are the work of music are not her favorite, but she’s invaluable as well, and she knows that as well, and we make sure that she knows that.”
He went on to highlight her ability to maintain so many responsibilities at once while continuing to champion his endeavors in the spotlight.
“That’s a hard thing for her to navigate sometimes, to be needed in so many places,” Stapleton explained honestly. “We all know that she’s the boss in the room, and if it doesn’t pass her, it’s not going to pass. That’s the way it goes.”
Embraces The Uncertainty Of Fan Reactions
When releasing new music, especially ones as vulnerable and personal as the stories on this album, Stapleton admits to feeling a bit of trepidation surrounding the initial drop as there’s no telling where fans’ opinions will lie.
“Whenever we’re releasing new music, we don’t have a specific ritual really, but I think there’s a little bit of apprehension, a little bit of excitement mixed together wondering how fans will react, really,” Stapleton shared in a statement to his label. “I think that’s the main thing going on in our heads when we put something out is we hope whatever we’ve done will be something that people will gravitate to and enjoy.”
On the heels of the album’s release, listeners have already started to grasp the authentic storytelling and genre-spanning sounds. One person, in particular, has felt an especially magnetic pull to the project – Morgane, of course, who expressed her love for the songs in the comment section of Stapleton’s most recent Instagram post in which he announced the arrival of Higher. The post included a slide with the words “For Morgane,” written out in the center. This was his way of letting fans know that each song that comes to life throughout the album is dedicated to his wife, the mother of his children, and fellow singer/songwriter.
So many joyful emotions and pride were on display in her response, which read, “So many tears in my eyes I can’t see straight! I am moved and humbled and I love you more than you could ever know ♥️”
Higher follows 2020’s acclaimed Starting Over, which went on to win three awards at the 67th Annual GRAMMYs including Best Country Album, Best Country Solo Performance for “You Should Probably Leave” and Best Country Song for “Cold.” Additionally, the project was honored with Album of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards.
On Tour In 2024
Chris Stapleton recently announced the extension of his All-American Road Show Tour, with the newly included U.S. dates extending the trek into next summer.
Produced by Live Nation, the trek will feature special guests Sheryl Crow, Elle King, Marcus King, Nikki Lane, Willie Nelson and Family, Grace Potter, Allen Stone, Marty Stuart, Turnpike Troubadours, The War and Treaty and Lainey Wilson.
Additionally, 2024 brings even more opportunities to join George Strait on select stadium dates. For a complete list of Chris Stapleton’s upcoming shows, click HERE.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.