When I played Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” a while ago, I was struck by the fact that he could write an excellent and very genuine country song like Panbowl but didn’t really seem to belong to the genre on a consistent basis. Later I listened to “High Top Mountain” and noted that this was an album that followed the country music conventions but breathed an original and idiosyncratic life into them.
Recently I bought Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” and “Sound & Fury” albums. I can officially declare that Sturgill Simpson’s days as a country musician have ended. A Sailor’s Guide is an album of personal songs, some to his young child, that might be characterized as some kind of combination of folk/pop and a smattering of everything else. Sound and Fury is what a musician I know described as techno-metal.
Whatever they are, they ain’t country. It seems that musicians wander into country via folk music origins, probably because it’s commercially viable and then can’t maintain the interest. I think many of them feel too constrained or long to add other sounds to the mix.
So unless someone tells me that Sturgill Simpson has become possessed by the spirit of Hank Williams Senior I won’t be checking out his subsequent releases.
I ‘ve now had a chance to listen to High Top Mountain a good bit and I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite album by Sturgill Simpson. And that’s because it’s country music. He isn’t experimenting here with other genres and sounds. It’s straight up classic country with plenty of energy, fun lyrics and excellent steel guitar. For me the best songs are:
- Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean
- You Can Have the Crown
- Sitting Here Without You
- Time After All
But honestly, I think they’re all good. Now how rare is that? Most albums have three or four strong songs and the rest weak. This album has twelve songs and they range from excellent to good. They vary from ballads to up tempo rockabilly. I’m just disappointed that his later albums don’t appeal to me as much. Maybe these were all the country songs he wanted to make. Well if that’s so, then I’m glad he made this album and that I found it. I think it’s a keeper.
Yesterday I put up a post about Sturgill Simpson’s album Big Top Mountain. I related how I had not loved his two other albums, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” and “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” but that on the former album I thought that the song Panbowl was extremely good. This post is to expand on that comment. One of the things that country music can do is tell a story. In fact, I think that possibly the best country songs are the ones that do that best. Panbowl seems to be an autobiographical remembrance of youth and family. It feels to me like a completely heartfelt expression of anguish at the loss of the simple joys of being a child in a family. He paints a vivid picture of an extended family that provided love and belonging and what it means to lose this.
Admittedly I am attracted to strong sentiment so that might be the reason I rate this song so highly, but I think many country music fans will think this is an excellent song. In any case I consider it the best song of his I’ve heard and this is because it seems honest and describes something I think is admirable, love of family. Check it out and see if you agree.
There is a lot of bad music out there. And there is a lot of bad country music. One of the ways I try to find good music is by association with other good music. Case in point, a friend of mine at work told me about Colter Wall so I checked out his music and really liked it. One of his songs is a cover of the old song Fraulein. On that song is a second singer and looking him up it turned out to be Tyler Childers. So I checked out his music and really liked it. Looking over Childer’s album Purgatory I noticed it was produced by Sturgill Simpson. Now I knew of Simpson. I had his “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music” album and there was one song on that album called Panbowl that was extremely good but overall I was undecided if I was a fan. But now I decided to take another look at Sturgill’s catalog. I listened to his latest album, “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth,” and didn’t really care for it. Then I went back to his first album, “High Top Mountain,” and really liked it a lot. I’ll listen to a lot of it for the next few days and then I’ll finish up this review. But I can say already it’s a solid country album and Simpson is a good singer songwriter. The fact that I didn’t care for his later stuff as much might mean High Top Mountain is more or less all of his stuff I’ll like. That’s okay. Even finding a whole album you like is a feat worth noting. This album is definitely a win.