This is okay, but I wish Chris Stapleton would put his musical powers to better use than this.
This take may be sacrilege, but I would argue that Chris Stapleton and Sam Hunt have something in common: They both arrived to lot of fanfare (although only Hunt saw chart success initially) and seemed primed to conquer country music in the mid/late 2010s…and then both quickly dove out of the spotlight, faded back to the pack, and now seem to be content releasing occasional singles under Thanos’s reign. Frankly, Stapleton hasn’t released anything that’s really worth paying attention to since the Korner was founded, and while radio has finally kinda-sorta started to get board with the beard (he’s had two singles reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart since 2020), neither one constituted a ringing endorsement of his work. I foresee that trend continuing for “Joy Of My Life,” a rare cover-song radio release and the third official single from Stapleton’s Starting Over album. It’s a paint-by-numbers love song that does little to distinguish itself from its peers (which at this this point seems to be a feature rather than a bug), and while Stapleton drags it kicking and screaming into the realm of respectability, it feels like a waste of time for one of the defining power voices of this generation.
On one hand, I like that Stapleton is developing a consistent and recognizable sound through his recent production work…but I’d trade consistent and recognizable sound for interesting and attention-grabbing any day of the week. The song opens with a prominent acoustic guitar and some light-touch snare percussion, and the only major addition from then on is a slick, soulful electric axe that covers the bridge solo and outro. The bright tones and relaxed tempo create a warm-yet-chill vibe that supports the lyrics while stopping short of overshadowing them, but given how little the lyrics have to say, I kind of wish the mix had stepped in a bit more forcefully, since it’s really the only thing giving the track any sort of romantic feel. The song has just enough energy to keep it from plodding, but at times it can feel like a placeholder, fading into the background as weaker elements of the song are pushed forward. All things considered, it’s a solid sound for what it is and what it does, but it leaves me wanting more as it goes along.
I’ll tackle the lyrics next, since despite being written by John Fogerty they are by far the weakest part of the song. The narrator intends to sing the praises of their partner by calling them “the joy of my life,” but the way they hype up the other person is beyond generic, with references to heaven/angels and token lines declaring that material and popular clout pale in comparison. (In truth, despite a 4:34 run time, there isn’t a whole lot to the song at all, with three short verses and a few choruses spread across the slow-rolling mix. The whole thing is incredibly boring on balance, and it’s overly-dependent on the listener to provide actual meaning to the song through their own experiences. While I suppose there are so many ways to profess your love to someone, this trope has been a genre staple since its inception, and putting together a song that rises above the noise is a tough job (perhaps that’s why Stapleton decided to lean on Fogerty’s expertise after his own failed flailings on songs like “Millionaire”). Frankly, this track feels a little overdone in 2022, and doesn’t tap the emotional veins that it hoped to mine.
However, Stapleton’s voice is more than capable of drawing emotion from its difference, and it’s really the only reason to consider tuning in here. No, he’s not maxing out his power or range like he’s done in the past, but instead he’s leaning on his charisma to let the listener share in the emotion he feels towards the other person. His vocal texture is his biggest asset here, as it gives the narrator a weathered and long-tenured feel, which in turn makes the relationship feel deep and longstanding as well. (Give this song to someone like Thomas Rhett or even Luke Bryan, and it just wouldn’t have the same depth or meaning to it.) If there’s any nitpicking I would do, I might push Stapleton in the same way I pushed the producer: There’s really nothing to the lyrics, so he could apply a bit more power and passion to take over the track and perhaps give it some extra weight. Still, if Stapleton is the only thing separating you from the rest of the pack…well, you could do a lot worse.
“Joy Of My Life” is a poor song with decent execution, and given the state of country music right now, I guess we’ll have to take it. I wouldn’t put it up alongside some of the stronger tracks I’ve heard recently (and I’m not sure I’d call it terribly memorable either), but it’s Chris Stapleton with his signature sound doing some decent emoting for a change, and for the moment that’s enough for me. I doubt it’ll be enough to catapult him back into the day-to-day country music conversation, but given that Starting Over is starting to show its age, it’s a decent bridge song for whatever he decides to pursue next. Let’s just hope that “next” is more interesting than “now.”
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a spin or two to see what you think.