Kentucky-born singer and songwriter Sturgill Simpson has won enormous critical acclaim since the 2014 release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. He’s been called country music’s savior and been compared to outlaw country trailblazer Waylon Jennings. When the stage lights came on and the music started at New York’s Beacon Theatre, Simpson’s no-nonsense demeanor and weathered baritone voice demanded that we stop trying to apply labels and simply listen.
Simpson’s powerhouse touring band—which includes two keyboard players and a lead guitarist—packs enough musical muscle to create a breathtaking fusion of country and rock. Tracks from Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and his 2013 debut, High Top Mountain, took on a new life onstage. “Railroad of Sin” got a turbocharged arrangement thanks to the fingerpicking guitar leads and high-octane keyboard solos. “You Can Have the Crown” began with a mid-tempo, bluesy groove and then blasted off into high powered country rock. “Long White Line” morphed into an extended jam that could have given either Derek Trucks or Warren Haynes a run for their money. While the band didn’t shy away from musical pyrotechnics, Simpson’s soul-baring vocals always took center stage. “Old King Coal,” easily one of the most heart-wrenching songs in Simpson’s repertoire, delivered even more of an emotional wallop performed live. A reverent cover of the classic William Bell ballad “You Don’t Miss Your Water” was a showstopper.
Is Sturgill Simpson the savior of country music? To this listener, Simpson’s stunning performance at the Beacon suggested he’s an emerging artist whose music can’t be easily filed under a single genre. Simpson defies pigeonholing, and this fact alone makes him one of today’s most compelling musicians.