Charlie Worsham Is Ready for His ‘Chris Stapleton Moment’

Charlie Worsham has been playing the long game for over a decade, and he’s finally poised to cash in with an all-star duets project he’s calling Compadres. Released this week, the five-song EP features collabs with A-listers Luke Combs, Lainey Wilson, Elle King, Dierks Bentley, and Kip Moore.

But before he was able to create Compadres, Worsham, 38, had to make peace with a now 10-year-old ghost. Back in 2013, the Mississippi native released Rubberband, his major-label Nashville debut. It failed to crack the Top 10 on the country albums chart, and its two singles floundered at radio. Despite critical acclaim, Rubberband didn’t snap in the country music marketplace, and its 2017 follow-up, Beginning of Things, fared even worse.

The experience — a five-year chunk of his artistic prime — left Worsham, a Berklee-educated musician long regarded as one of the best in Nashville, more than a little bitter.

“I was a pretty angry dude, and underneath all that I was worried and afraid,” Worsham says. “So much of my satisfaction and joy was attached to expectations. These things that were so specifically defined as a measure of success were heavily dependent on things that are out of my control. I was doomed to disappointment.”

Peers like the Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston think it was just a matter of timing. “I fucking love that Rubberband record,” says Johnston, who produced Compadres and co-wrote the track “Creekwater Clear” with Worsham and Brent Cobb. “But I also saw what he was competing with back then. He’s walking into a country station at seven in the morning with bright yellow-and-orange Chuck Taylors on and he doesn’t rap. So, it was tough for him.”

But Worsham soldiered on, refusing to chase bro-country trends and instead committing himself to pursuits that brought him joy. He hosted the off-the-cuff jam nights “Every Damn Monday” (one devoted to the songs of Lynyrd Skynyrd remains legendary in Nashville circles), wrote a book about following your bliss, became an adjunct member of Old Crow Medicine Show, and played guitar and mandolin all over albums by the genre’s biggest stars, from Eric Church to Bentley. He even donned a Nineties mullet wig as recently as this summer to join Bentley’s gag group Hot Country Knights (as well as the star’s “serious” band).

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While all that was happening, a new audience, namely young artists like Combs and Wilson, was discovering Rubberband. “This album deserves so much more credit and attention than it got when it came out,” Combs tweeted to his sizable following in 2019. “The writing, instrumentation, and production are A+. If you’re a country fan you should give this a listen.”

Worsham took note and slowly began to view Rubberband in a different light. It was no longer the debut that failed to lift off, but rather an album that launched a new wave of traditional country singers. “I didn’t realize it at the time I was putting Rubberband out, but Luke and Lainey were moving to town and they were cultivating a new energy in Nashville,” Worsham says. “I didn’t know it, but I was the senior to their sophomore.”

Now, on Compadres, they return the favor of sorts, singing with the not-quite-elder statesman whose debut album reminded them that honest country music could still be made in Nashville. Three of the five tracks are new — Moore sings on the twangy “Kiss Like You Dance,” King summons rural nostalgia on “Creekwater Clear,” and Bentley joins Worsham for the mantra “Things I Can’t Control” — while two songs get second lives. Wilson and Worsham cover Tony Arata’s “Handful of Dust,” made famous by Patty Loveless, and Combs reimagines a track off Rubberband titled “How I Learned to Pray.” Each of the five is worthy of being a radio hit and has the potential to — finally — break Worsham’s career in a big way.

Johnston says the EP has the ability to be Worsham’s “Chris Stapleton moment.” Like the Grammy-winning Traveller songwriter was just a few years ago, Worsham has been hiding in plain sight in Nashville.

“Everybody freaked out over Stapleton and we had Stapleton for 20 years!” Johnston says. “It’s about noticeability. We’ve known Charlie Worsham’s been the baddest dude in town, and now he’s not only acting like it, he’s putting out music that reflects that. And he’s flexing a little bit, which is fun.”


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Worsham doesn’t deny that he’s worrying less — and maybe even showing some muscle. But to him, it’s all about perspective: not only how he views his career so far, but, if he’s being honest, how his heroes see him.

“There are measures of success that I hope to achieve, and I think Compadres has got a chance, but at the core, you could sum up success in one word: respect. It’s taken all these years for me to cultivate it and I wouldn’t trade anything for respect,” he says. “I know that I’m going to spend the rest of my life playing country music. I don’t have to worry about that not happening — I can just focus on what notes I’m playing right now.”