Written by Chris Stapleton and Danny Green
The songs of Chris Stapleton have become chart-toppers for some of country music’s most prolific artists. He’s also crafted the kind of album cuts that stop you in your tracks and resonate immediately.
On Traveller, his long-awaited debut solo album, Stapleton reclaims a couple of these cuts while undoubtedly providing a fresh batch of material for a variety of artists to mine. Right now though, I can’t imagine anybody else singing these songs – especially the album’s second single, “Fire Away.”
Stapleton is a magnificent singer: His one-of-a-kind mix of power, grit and tenderness is the perfect voice for this very complicated story.
The opening lines suggest a narrator ready for a fight: “Honey load up your questions…And pick up your sticks and your stones.”
But something different is clearly emerging. It’s in Stapleton’s vocals, which exude warmth. And it’s in the song’s arrangement, which is relaxed, almost sanguine. These feelings are confirmed by the very next line, one of the most evocative lyrics I’ve ever heard in a Stapleton song: “Pretend I’m a shelter for heartaches that don’t have a home.”
Everything builds to the fever pitch of the chorus: “Fire away…Take your best shot…Show me what you got…Honey I’m not afraid.”
The opening salvo – Stapleton’s delivery of “Fire” – is like a cannon shot out in slow motion. It’s an instantly iconic note. There’s so much brewing within – love, anger, desperation, need. It’s smooth and rough, sensitive and stark.
The emotional wallop of the chorus tends to dominate memories of “Fire Away.” Just as stirring though, is the denouement in the second verse. Stapleton beautifully distills the internal conflict that drives the song, adding weight to everything that comes before and after.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the harmony vocals by Stapleton’s wife, Morgane. Her clarion voice sneaks in and out of “Fire Away,” subtly underlining the grace in her husband’s gravelly timbre.
There’s nothing fancy about the song’s arrangement – which is appropriate. You don’t want a voice like Stapleton’s fighting for space with anybody or anything. Still, “Fire Away” feels like a full production. The standout is Robby Turner’s pedal steel and the way it cradles the chords that descend from the chorus. It acts as a balm of sorts – no matter how searing “Fire Away” gets, it’s still, at heart, a sentimental song.
Such contradictions make “Fire Away” a fascinating achievement – a testament to deep, abiding commitment that’s inspiring and tragic. It’s fitting emotional terrain for a fascinating vocalist, and it’s impossible not to hang on every note.