Sound — 9
Chris Stapleton is a name that I've found a lot of people are unfortunately unfamiliar with. Starting his career behind the scenes in Nashville as a prolific (Grammy nominated) songwriter, Chris has written hit songs for a number of successful country artists. "Come Back Song" by Darius Rucker, "Drink a Beer" by Luke Bryan and "Never Wanted Nothing More" by Kenny Chesney were all written by Chris Stapleton, and after hearing him play all three of these songs with nothing more than his voice and beat up acoustic guitar, I can't imagine why he'd ever want to give them away. From 2008 until his departure in 2010, Chris fronted a bluegrass band, The SteelDrivers, recording two albums with the band. The SteelDrivers song, "If It Hadn't Been for Love" was later covered by Adele and released as a bonus track on her album, "21"...
Sometime in 2010, after leaving The SteelDrivers (yet before starting his current, solo country career), Chris formed a band of his own... The Jompson Brothers. Definitely a far-cry from the bluegrass sound of The SteelDrivers, The Jompson Brothers have quite a bit more beef to their sound. Full of foot stomping, guitar riffing, heavy southern rock, The Jompson Brothers released their self-titled debut album later that year.
Besides Chris, the band is filled out by JT Cure playing the bass, Bard McNamee behind the drums and Greg McKee busting out some pretty impressive lead guitar licks throughout the nine tracks on the album...
1. "Ride My Rocket" - After about twelve seconds of feedback, this opening track on the album kicks the door open. With a thumping rhythm section and... slightly provocative (?) lyrics coming from Chris Stapleton's raspy belting voice, this song does a good job at introducing The Jompson Brothers to the world as soon as the "play" button is pressed and the album starts to play. The song allows lead guitarist Greg McKee to show off his abilities with a pair of bluesy facemelters, alongside Stapleton's powerful wails as he yells out the question: "Don't you wanna ride my rocket?"
2. "Hey Girl" - After drummer, Bard McNamee counts off with his hi-hat, the band immediately kicks off the second track, "Hey Girl" with a guitar riff that (in my opinion) sounds very similar to something the band Clutch could have written. Not much later, Chris starts to sing, the guitar riff repeating after every couple of lines. The structure of this song is somewhat nontraditional, there's not really a chorus. After the first verse, the same guitar riff is played higher up on the guitar neck before Chris sings something that I would almost call a bridge. There's a little rhythm section interlude before Chris lets out a powerful scream. The guitar riff changes up before Greg McKee shines again. After another verse, the song ends with more riffing and Chris repeating: "Hey hey girl!"
3. "Inside Your Head" - Possibly my favorite track on the album, "Inside Your Head" slows things down after the two rockers before it. Lyrically this tune sounds a bit more like his country music, thankfully without losing the chunk in the guitars. The song starts out with a thirty second guitar picking intro riff with the rest of the band playing a bit more quietly before Chris begins to sing. Lyrically this is one of the best songs on the album, it sounds like it's about realizing that a significant other is being unfaithful.
A quick sample of Chris' songwriting:
"I wanna know what's going on inside your head
Are you thinking about him when your clothes are on my floor?
I desperately want to believe the words you said
And knowing that I can't makes me want you that much more
I should leave you, I know
I should hate you, but I don't..."
(Insert another fantastic guitar solo here)
4. "Secret Weapon" - "Secret Weapon" kicks off with another blues-tinged rock riff before Chris comes in with vocals. Even though I'm not quite sure what this song is about, or what the "secret weapon" is, this is still a pretty bada-s tune. The riff changes up about halfway through the song, the first time I heard the song it sounded like Greg McKee was going to take over with a solo before the new riff fully forms. The main riff comes back again, loud and proud before backing off and playing under the actual guitar solo in the song. Chris belts out one more verse and chorus before the riff plays until the end.
5. "On the Run" - Time to slow things back down again with the fifth track on the album, "On the Run." This song starts out fairly quiet with Chris singing over a clean electric guitar picking part and occasional bass drum hit. It all comes loose about a minute and thirty seconds in, another guitar can be head fading in with feedback before the chorus kicks you in the face. After singing, Chris plays the beefy rhythm part while Greg McKee uses a lead lick for a hook, altering the end of it every time. Instead of just playing (what I would call) the 'signature' lead of the song after the second chorus, we hear the first real guitar solo before a third and final chorus hits. The clean picking part returns, ending the song.
6. "Motor Runnin'" - The closest thing to a genuine love song on the album, the sixth track, "Motor Runnin'" is a more mid-tempo rocker of a tune. I can't say this is one of my favorites on the album, although it's a good song. There's just something about it that doesn't grab my ear and not let go. It has a decent guitar riff and another pair of damn fine solos, but (especially lyrically) this song just seems like it's missing something...
7. "Blood in the Water" - "It's the Jompson Brothers, see... J-O-M-P, see?" Before the drumbeat hits, this is spoken into what sounds like an phone's answering machine. "Blood in the Water" is a song that's been growing on me. An upbeat tune about eyeing a gorgeous woman from across a bar. I'm not sure what it is about the lead guitarist, but for whatever reason, this is another song in which the first time I heard it, it sounded like a solo was brewing only to turn into another guitar riff.
8. "Skeleton Key" - Getting past the "Butterflies and flowers and rainbows" that Chris quietly sings before the song kicks in, "Skeleton Key" has a riff that, again, to me sounds sort of Clutch or Wolfmother-ish. The guitars sound very bluesy in this tune, but this is another tune that somewhat disappoints lyrically (especially knowing how good of writer Chris can be). Immediately after the third chorus, the timing of the song shifts pretty dramatically, going from a slower bluesier guitar riff, to a faster-paced, rockier bridge before slowing back down into the main riff until the end of the song.
9. "Barely Alive" - An acoustic guitar?! Say what?! Yes, the final track on the album is a much softer song with Chris playing an acoustic guitar, the song being accenting with overdriven electric parts sprinkled throughout. "Barely Alive" IS definitely my favorite song on the album, (maybe I'm just a sucker for an acoustic guitar). This tune perfectly showcases the powerful cries that Stapleton can wail out that's made him one of my favorite singer-songwriters. I think his voice sounds better in a bit of a softer, more acoustic setting (even though he kicks major ass in a louder rock setting). After the bridge and a sweet little solo played over Chris' acoustic strumming, Chris sings another verse and chorus before Greg McKee makes one final stand on the lead guitar, playing a couple licks as the song fades out, bring the album to a close.
Lyrics — 8
With a resume as impressive as Chris Stapleton's is, I was sadly disappointed in the lyrics he wrote for The Jompson Brothers. His debut single as a solo country artist, "What Are You Listening To?" is fantastic, and granted that The Jompson Brothers album is a complete 180 degree turn, I expected the lyrics to at least be a bit deeper in subject matter. But for what he wrote about in the songs on this album, the lyrics definitely fit the heavy bluesy drive of the music.
Chris Stapleton has such a unique voice, and such power in the wails and cries he can produce almost out of nowhere (a-la "Barely Alive" or one of his solo songs, "Sometimes I Cry"). I have to say again that he's currently one of my favorite singer-songwriters.
Overall Impression — 8
I'm not sure how well I can compare The Jompson Brothers to other albums or artists. They're very southern rock, musically sounding a bit like a bluesier lovechild of Molly Hatchet and ZZ Top. The riff in "Hey Girl" immediately made me think of guitarist, Tim Sult from Clutch, although The Jompsons sound nothing like Clutch other than that. "Skeleton Key" has a bit of a Andrew Stockdale/Wolfmother feel to the riff, yet again, that's really the only similarity between the two bands. In terms of Chris Stapleton's vocals, I can't think of any artist he sounds like, unless it's comparing The Jompsons to another incarnation of his music (the bluessgrass of The SteelDrivers, or his solo country music).
I really enjoyed this album, even though a couple of the songs kinda flew under my radar. I love the fact that Chris is such a versatile musician, I don't really hate anything, but as I said I was slightly disappointed in the lyrical content of the album. If the album were lost or stolen, I wouldn't need to buy it again since I have it on my computer's music library and could burn a new copy pretty quickly. If I had to buy another copy, I definitely would. I'm a big fan of Chris Stapleton and have enjoyed everything he's released. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of his debut country album, but I'm glad I've found The SteelDrivers and The Jompson Brothers to hold me over until then.