USA, 2013, outlaw country
Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain: Sturgill first popped up on my radar with Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. After hearing that gem, I immediately checked out this album. I was so amazed with his second release that I didn’t think his debut could be better. I was wrong. This is his best album. This is him at his rawest and most real, when he was still struggling to make it, before the recognition, before the Grammy nomination for best album. Though he’s clearly still striving on Metamodern Sounds, you get the sense that he’s got breathing room. Not so on this album. Sturgill’s desperate, but he’s keeping a lid on it, keeping his cool, and poking fun at himself to keep his sanity. He’s starts us off with an aphorism, “life ain’t fair and the world is mean”. His voice, his country cool, his outlaw style carry it all from here on out.
“You Can Have the Crown” and “Some Days” are the standouts for most listeners, and rightly so. These songs distill Sturgill’s predicament: he’s got a wife who wants him to get a job, but he knows he’s got the chops to make it in country music. And he likes to smoke weed. But for me, the best song on this album is “Old King Coal”. It’s got everything a country song could ask for and more. It’s country down to the bone, but Sturgill takes it a step further. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat anything, doesn’t romanticize small-town life like so many watered-down country singers have done and still do today. No. He gives it to us raw and real: the mountains used to be rich with coal, but “now there ain’t nothing but welfare and pills”.