USA, 2014, outlaw country
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: This is the album that basically put Sturgill Simpson on people’s radars. Though it’s not quite as good as his debut, High Top Mountain, this album is like a breath of fresh air to country music.
The album starts in a rather unconventional way for country music. The last thing you expect is a trippy music video talking about the interaction of philosophy and psychedelic drug use. He brings it back home, though, when he tells us that all the drugs he’s done have changed the way he sees things, but love is the only thing that ever changed his life. This is, in my opinion, one of the strongest openings I’ve ever heard on a studio album.
From this, Sturgill moves into more familiar territory with “Life of Sin” and “Living the Dream”, especially with the wordplay of “I thank God for this life of sin”. That’s a classic country trope, and Sturgill delivers it in a charming enough way so as not to seem hackneyed.
And then the album takes deeper artistic turn with “Voices”, a song decrying the way everybody talks and talks but no one ends up ever actually saying anything (kind of like this post). I get this song through and through, and I’m right there with him when he sings, “I wish somebody would make these voices go away”. As I wrote that last line, a new thought struck me: is he talking about voices in his head? No. Within the context of the song, he’s clearly talking about humanity and all the bullshit it spouts on a daily basis.
I grew up in the 80s. MTV in its heyday was like mother’s milk to me, and I watched it religiously every day. Thus, When in Rome’s “The Promise” is a childhood favorite of mine. So when I heard this album for the first time, Sturgill’s cover didn’t sit well with me. I felt it didn’t do the original justice, but after getting the album on vinyl and spinning it many, many times, I’ve come to understand what Sturgill is doing. He’s not trying to cover a song and make a cheap version of it. He’s redefining it, the way he does with “In Bloom” on his latest album. He’s making the songs his own.
I was raised on country music but rejected it as I got older and got into genres I consider more artistic, serious, and/or creative. Sturgill Simpson, however, convinced me that the genre itself has plenty to offer, if you just look. Thus, over the past few years, I’ve gone down a rabbit hole and have been listening to Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and the like.