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Either Way

by Chris Stapleton

If you’d like a good reason why Justin Timberlake would be interested in cosying up to Chris Stapleton, you need look no further than his multi-Grammy-winning album From A Room, and in particular this starkly lovely ballad, which oozes emotional authenticity from every pore. Whether or not this studio version has been edited to the hilt (unlikely, judging by the quality of the live performances I’ve heard), there’s nothing in the final mix to upset the impression of a single live take and, besides, the sheer character and intensity of his vocal delivery throws all other considerations into the shade.

Now, it pains me to admit it, but had I been mixing this, I’d possibly have killed it stone dead. Perhaps it’s too much Mix Rescue-ing that’s done it, or a general predilection towards more chart-oriented productions, but I can easily imagine foolishly attempting to iron out many of the balance contrasts that are such an inherent part of the magic here. What I mean is that deliberate underplaying and undersinging are a vital part of Stapleton’s pathos. Check out the guitar under the word “stay” at 1:19, for instance, where the softly scraped guitar notes teeter on the boundaries of inaudibility before the suddenly accented chord at 1:21, or the way he all but drops most of the unstressed syllables in “we go to church, we go to work, we fake the perfect life” at 0:31. Would I have been able to resist the urge to automate them to kingdom come in search of enhanced accompaniment consistency and maximum lyric intelligibility? Sad to say, I’d probably have sacrificed far too much soul on the altar of my own brand of OCD, so this is definitely a track I’ll be keeping close at hand to mitigate such knee-jerk mixing responses. And, given that Vance Powell was at the console for this album, perhaps it’s also time I grew a beard…