This week, back in 2015, one of the most important albums of the past decade was sitting comfortably at Number One on the Billboard Country Albums chart, where it would remain until late February of 2016, and then reappear several more week throughout the year.
Released in May of 2015, Traveller didn’t top the country charts until November (after the CMA Awards performance), and with a couple one-week interruptions from Carrie Underwood and Chris Young, it would stay there through February.
Previously to this album, Stapleton was best known for his time in the Steeldrivers, a bluegrass group he was the frontman for from 2007-2010. Then in 2013, he signed with Mercury Nashville as a solo artist.
He actually wrote one of Luke Bryan’s best releases of his career “Drink A Beer” in 2014, along with songs for Josh Turner, George Strait, Kenny Chesney and more, before going to work and releasing his debut solo album. Stapleton teamed up with legendary producer Dave Cobb on this record and it became one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the year.
Six months after the album was released, Stapleton performed his cover of “Tennessee Whiskey” at the CMA’s with Justin Timberlake
And in a matter of minutes, Chris Stapleton officially burst onto the scene. A tremendous performance along with Timberlake helped launch his success that led to his album reaching number one on the charts five years ago.
From the early 2010s, especially in 2013 and 2014, bro-country dominated commercial success in country music. It was the latest fad in the genre that, up until this point, seemed like a freight train going off the rails with no end in sight.
But with Stapleton’s success with the more traditional sound, it opened the doors for artists to return to a more traditional country sound and have mainstream success with it. For example, the following year Eric Church won the CMA album of the year for Mr. Misunderstood which was a surprise album that he just released to his fan club initially.
Over the next few years, Christ Stapleton again, Kacey Musgraves, and Luke Combs were all winners of the CMA Album of the Year. What do all of those people have in common? They are well respected in the industry for doing things their way and not necessarily falling into the cookie-cutter mold that we’re so used to seeing on the radio.
Stapleton almost acted as the bridge between independent country fans and mainstream country fans. For the independent fans, it proved that maybe the state of modern country music wasn’t as bad as we thought, and to the mainstream fans, it was an eye-opening discovery into the genre beyond the Jason Aldeans, FGLs, and Luke Bryans of the world.
Yes, you could maybe try and argue that there are better albums than Chris Stapleton’s Traveller in the 2010s, but I find it hard to find an album that was more important to the genre in the last decade.