While Chris Stapleton may seem like a new name in country music, he’s hardly a stranger to the business.
The Nashville songwriter has written and composed hits for a pantheon of country superstars such as Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, George Strait and even Charleston’s own Darius Rucker.
He’s also fronted bands such as the rock group The Jompson Brothers, and before that, The SteelDrivers, a Grammy-nominated bluegrass band.
But for the first time in his 15-year career in Music City, it’s Stapleton’s name climbing the charts. Last week, his debut solo record “Traveller,” was ranked No. 11 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, up a slot from the week before.
Since the record was released last month, it’s drawn praise from NPR, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times and a slew of other leading music critics.
Stapleton, who will perform Friday at the Charleston Music Hall, said he appreciates the recognition, and that he’s glad people are enjoying his work. But you get the sense that this record was more for himself, a project that reinvigorated his love for making music.
“These songs kind of spanned my entire 15-year songwriting career,” he said, calling from his home in Nashville. “All of them have stories that are either personal or personal to people that I know. They all have moments or memories for me in one way or another.”
Even though they’re all old songs, Stapleton said he didn’t have trouble getting back to a frame of mind that felt like he was drawing from recent experiences.
“I have the luxury of being years beyond the creation of them, and I get to look at them with a little bit different perspective. I’ve come to find out, whether you think you’re writing something personal or not, there’s almost always something you find of yourself in there,” he said.
Only one of the songs, the title track “Traveller,” was written recently, in the wake of his father’s death in late 2013.
The song about reckoning with the finality of life and moving on from loss ultimately inspired him to record the rest of the album.
“My father passing away, it flipped the switch in me where I really just wanted to get back to playing music for the love of it. ... I really wanted to make a record that A. he would have liked and B. that I just enjoyed making,” he said.
Stapleton said he wasn’t holding back songs from other artists until the opportunity arose to write his own album. He also doesn’t feel like his whole career has been leading up to this, even though it certainly seems like a breakthrough moment, given all the recent praise.
“I always have thought that things happen right when they’re supposed to,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to leap for it, and sometimes it’s right in front of your face.”
Stapleton grew up in Kentucky, and started writing songs when he was a teenager. He was gigging in bars when he met a guy from Nashville who worked as a songwriter for a music publisher.
“I didn’t know that was a job you could have,” he said.
His new friend passed along Stapleton’s information to the publisher, and they “struck up a friendship,” he said, adding that he soon decided to move to Nashville in October 2001. Four days after settling in, Stapleton had a publishing deal.
While the bulk of Stapleton’s career has illustrated he can write the chart-topping country hits, his latest album is an ode to the stripped-down roots of the genre.
His Kentucky-bred accent and heartfelt crooning in songs such as “Fire Away” are so genuine, it’s almost hard to believe anybody but Stapleton could sing his songs.
Another thing working in the album’s favor may be its producer, Dave Cobb, who also recently produced critically acclaimed works by Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. Cobb is known for his hands-off approach, and for guiding artists in a direction that feels true to who they are and what they’re singing.
“I’m always inspired by hearing people do things that they believe in, you know, a lot of great new country acts, Brandy Clark, Sturgill (Simpson), Kacey Musgraves, and this guy named Sam Lewis I’ve been playing some stuff with,” Stapleton said.
Regardless of where his solo act leads, Stapleton said he always wants to continue writing songs for himself and for other musicians.
“It’s all part of one reel for me, and I think one feeds off of the other,” he said. “I enjoy the possibilities of writing songs. The possibilities of finding something you’ve never found on the guitar or singing, or a turn on words that you hadn’t thought of before. The great thing about songwriting is that you have that possibility every time you sit down. ... When you get in that and you find the place where you just lose yourself in that, to me it’s better than any drug or getting drunk or anything, it’s good.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.