Album Reviews

Sturgill Simpson

A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Artist:     Sturgill Simpson

Album:     A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Label:     Atlantic

Release Date:     04/15/2016

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When Sturgill Simpson burst onto the music scene with High Top Mountain, his weathered baritone and raw, no-nonsense country style invited comparisons to Waylon Jennings. While Simpson could have easily found a niche for himself as an outlaw country revivalist, he instead chose to record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. The challenging, boundary-pushing album earned Simpson widespread critical acclaim and a spot in many publications’ “Best of 2014” lists. Simpson’s latest project, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, makes it clear that his music continues to evolve and defy genre labels.

In an era of a la carte downloads, concept albums may seem like an obsolete relic. Yet Simpson, never afraid to buck conventional wisdom, has created a seamless cycle of songs all inspired by the birth of his son. While the album is clearly meant to be appreciated as a whole, a few individual tracks stand out. “Sea Stories,” inspired by Simpson’s time in the Navy, features the raw outlaw country style that first put Simpson on the map. “Keep It Between the Lines” is graced by the Dap-King Horns in all their funky glory. The tight brass and punchy rhythm section sound straight out of Muscle Shoals, yet Simpsons never sounds out of his element. While bits of political commentary have sometimes found their way into Simpson’s lyrics, “Call to Arms” is his first overtly anti-war song. The driving beat and heady mix of guitars, keyboards and horns all match the fury in Simpson’s voice as he warns against, “Believing that you have to be a puppet to be a man.”
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth takes elements of country, soul and rock and mixes them into a heady musical brew that can’t easily be pigeonholed. Simpson’s ongoing growth as an artist and knack for blurring genre lines make him one of today’s most compelling American musicians.

-Jon Kleinman

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