In the spring of 2011, Adele toured behind the triumphant 21 with a stage full of lampshades, a wardrobe brimming with black frocks, and a cover of a Chris Stapleton–penned murder ballad in her arsenal. Back before Stapleton was rendering Justin Timberlake into a giggling fanboy at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards and writing hits for Luke Bryan, Tim McGraw, George Strait, and other country headliners, he was fronting the SteelDrivers, a bluegrass outfit that made their debut with a critically adored and Billboard-charting self-titled album. While the record enjoyed its accolades in Nashville and country circles, the SteelDrivers didn’t see much crossover success at the time — and then Adele came along.
On the 21 tour, Adele worked her cover of “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” into the setlist. She spent a lot of time talking to the audience on that particular circuit, recounting the heartbreak that inspired each song, cracking jokes at her own expense, and breaking down the invisible barrier between the famous and the fans with intimate conversation. As one does when excited to share a song one loves, Adele gushed each night about the SteelDrivers, shouting out the bluegrass outfit as her favorite band from Nashville before settling into the tune’s grisly tale of lethal betrayal. The cover — which was included as a bonus track on the U.K. release of 21 — would eventually make its way onto Adele’s Live at the Royal Albert Hall CD/DVD. It’s a fantastic treatment of a timeless track, and it goes to show that even the most celebrated musicians can geek out about their new musical obsession, just like the rest of us. Timberlake may be the latest high-profile pop force to bow to Stapleton’s songwriting prowess, but Adele heard a winner there long before the mainstream caught up.
Watch Adele’s take on “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” below. Stapleton is nominated for four Grammys this year for Traveller and is up against Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, and Alabama Shakes for Album of the Year. Click here for the complete list of 2016 Grammy nominations, and tune in to the ceremony on February 15, 2016.