It took me awhile, but I've finally caught on. I've lauded the work of Shooter Jennings on this blog quite a bit. His brand of music is authentic, catchy, and has staying power. There is another artist that has caught my attention lately and he shares a lot of traits with Shooter that I find appealing in a musician. His name is Sturgill Simpson. He's a Kentuckian and is best defined as a country artist, if you want to lay a genre on him. He's more than that though. From song to song, he can wiggle free of genre and bring a wide spectrum of influence into his work.
Simpson has become very popular despite not getting radio play or support from the Nashville establishment, which he clearly doesn't want or need. In 2014 he won big at the Americana Music Awards grabbing the top prize for "Emerging Artist", "Artist of the Year" and "Song of the Year". In 2015 he was nominated for a Grammy for his album "Metamodern Sounds In Country Music". He plays to sold out shows all over the country and his latest album "A Sailors Guide To Earth" hit number one on the country charts despite getting very little mainstream radio play.
The guy isn't afraid to ruffle any feathers either. He took ACM to task for bumping Merle Haggard from the magazine just before his (Haggard's) death.
Sturgill Simpson & Merle Haggard
Simpson is a different kind of artist. He draws on the influences of his youth and teenage years, like most artists, but he isn't afraid of his own eclecticism. He openly talks about the influence that Merle Haggard, Keith Whitley, and Willie Nelson have had on his music, but in the same breath, he'll include Pink Floyd, Nirvana or any number of artists that you may not immediately catch in his music. In other words, he doesn't like to be pinned down as a musician that is falling back on his influences from a boxed in genre, but he expands his music by letting the variety shine through in a blatantly unapologetic manner. I've found his music to have such depth that I can listen to it over and over without growing weary of it or doing song skipping. There always seems to be something there that I didn't catch on a previous listen. His music speaks to me in a way that The Beatles, The Replacements, and Shooter Jennings have. I hold his artistry in that high esteem.
Simpson has a draw for both country and rock fans. He drifts into the area of psychedelia at times, both lyrically and musically, and his interest in Buddhism is weaved in and out of quite a bit of his music. He doesn't preach it, but he just lays it out it there to let you know who he is. He is probably the first country artist to ever sing about ego death and the benefits of taking DMT and mushrooms to get a look at the world that steps outside of our day to day perceptions.
This guy is the real deal and I wouldn't be taking time out of my Saturday if I didn't want to try to turn a couple more people on to him, in hopes his music has the same impact on them as it has me.
If you want to get a really good look and listen, I'll start you out right here with his performance at Farm Aid on September 17th. A rousing performance with the Dap Kings backing him up on horns and featuring some passionate guitar work from Sturgill. Just a kick ass performance....
I'd recommend anyone that is interested in finding out more about Sturgill's music to start with songs from the "Metamodern Soungs In Country Music" album and if it strikes you right, move on from there. His first album "High Top Mountain" is solid, but not quite as polished or immediately satisfying as a genre busting piece of music like "Metamodern..." and "Sailors Guide To Earth" are. That's certainly not a knock on it at all. It has its' own charm and merit and is probably the most overtly country of his three albums. On each album he moves effortlessly between country, folk, psychedelia, and pop and does so without taking huge leaps. I hope someone finds out about the greatness of Sturgill Simpson from this blog, but if not, at least I got to spend an hour writing about an artist I believe is very important to modern music and is sure to continue making music that will stand the test of time.
"Turtles All The Way Down"
This is probably his most accessible song musically, but lyrically it captured the attention of a lot of music lovers that see modern country music as shallow and devoid of any lyrical depth. Simpson defies that in a refreshing manner with the subject matter he speaks to here.
"Life Of Sin"
This is a fun romp of a song that easily appeals to country sensibilities but has the backbone of a rockabilly tune.
This tune kind of plods along on the initial listen. Very pretty and not flashy, but it takes a turn that many of his songs take and the second half just sucks you in. The band starts picking up the tempo and Sturgill gets to show off his amazing voice and passion.
Joe Rogan and Marc Maron have featured him on their podcasts. You can check those out at the links below!