On “Starting Over,” due Friday, you can hear him taking advantage of that position to push ever so slightly at the edges of his well established identity. The album, whose title track he’s expected to perform at the CMAs, contains some of his hardest-rocking material, including several cuts he created with help from his avowed guitar hero, Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. It has a song, “Watch You Burn,” addressed to the perpetrator of the horrific mass shooting that killed 60 people at a Las Vegas country-music festival in 2017 — a rare instance of the normally circumspect Stapleton stepping into the sociopolitical fray of modern American life.
Most gratifyingly, “Starting Over” showcases the extremes of his remarkable vocal ability, as in “Cold,” a stately, whisper-to-a-growl R&B ballad filled with pained bent notes and lengthy runs as gritty as they are fluid.
“I love Chris the way I love Otis Redding and Donny Hathaway,” saidPink, who drafted Stapleton for a romantic duet on her 2019 album “Hurts 2B Human” — just one of several pop-star collaborations (along with songs by Justin Timberlake and Ed Sheeran) that Stapleton has been approached to do in recent years.