Musician Sturgill Simpson was recently put forth by Rolling Stone as perhaps the savior of country music-the one who will push the strange brew of bro-pop and the Taylor Swifting of country off the stage and remind people what it was and can be. What artists like Garth Brooks and yes, Mr. Achy Breaky himself did for the genre in the early 90’s by recycling it back into the mainstream has now served to neuter it. The Nashville machine churns out catchy and acceptable tunes that people who have never seen a cow outside of their burger could latch onto. Along comes Mr. Simpson: an authentic breath of real country air.
Sturgill Simpson is not very interested in being anyone’s musical savior but his own. His new album, his second released independently is called ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’ and contains the very best of country music as a genre: that is to say it is layered and lyrically rich.
The cover of Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music photo courtesy of sturgillsimpson.com
Country has an incredibly diverse history. It is, in essence a music that was shaped by immigrants and slaves both European and African, brewed in the Appalachians and the southeast portion of the U.S. and then distilled through the eyes of the cowboy, the rocker and the R&B singer.
The best of country artists understand its history and how malleable it is. One thinks of Ray Charles whose ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’ was mind-blowing to the segregated culture of the late fifties early 60’s and to those who forgot country music was birthed in the cauldron of black and white.
Sturgill didn’t choose country as much as it chose him. Born and for the most part raised in Kentucky (with a stint in the Navy taking him to Japan), his music is full of “throwback” country sounds, steel strings, slide guitar and his vocal quality: often compared to Waylon Jennings, distinctly country, soft, emotive and powerful.
The entire album has instrumentation that is authentic to the roots of the genre but are all reflections of him as an artist and what is shaping him at this moment.
For Simpson, this means his lyrics embrace the paradox of life: Simplicity and complexity all in one breath. ‘Turtles all the Way Down’ is a song which gets its title from a phrase in cosmology describing a metaphor for the earth. It is a nod to his interest in metaphysics, the effects of mind-altering drugs and ultimately the greatest drug of all…love. Very…far out: “…there’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane/where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain/…”
‘Turtles All the Way Down’:
Sonically, the album spans the breadth of country with elements of bluegrass, roots and folk. “A Little Light” stands out with rockabilly leanings with a tinge of gospel. His cover of the 1988 ‘When in Rome’ new wave hit “The Promise” is unexpected and opens up the song the way Ray Charles opened up his covers-on his genre bending country album. At 35, Sturgill was a child of the grunge era and echoes of Vedder veer into Hendrix like psychedelia and Beck-like lyrics. His favorite band is Tool. Yet, its all country.
‘The Promise’ When in Rome cover:
We try to classify and herald the birth of something new whenever we are bored-but really it is honesty which is always refreshing. Honesty is a genre that never goes out of style. And ‘Meta modern Sounds in Country Music’ is honest. Seen in this light, Sturgill becomes less the savior of country music; more its channeling force.
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