Sturgill Simpson, in my opinion, is currently the most exciting artist in the country music periphery.  Granted, I’m not a big country music fan but there are a few artists I like to listen to.  There are two things I admire most about Simpson – 1) his vocals – he has a classic country sound that is reminiscent of Waylon Jennings and 2) he is pushing boundaries within genres – Simpson strays outside the normal country music sound, bringing in elements of rock and soul and being much more liberal in his songwriting. 
 
Simpson hails from Kentucky, but moved out west to Oregon while in his late teens.  He first formed a band called Sunday Valley back in 2004.  However, Simpson eventually decided to take on a solo career, releasing his first solo album 3 years ago titled “High Top Mountain”.  This album embraced a sound that harkened back to the ‘70s but Simpson’s lyrical content kept it modern.  After touring behind the record, Simpson started working on his next album.  This is when he started stretching the boundaries of country music, delving into topics like physics and evolution on “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” released in 2014.  This is the album that first caught my attention.  Simpson was a breath of fresh air in the country scene, and he was rewarded with a top 10 album on the country charts, a Grammy nomination for best country album and winning best emerging artist at the Americana Music Awards and then artist of the year in 2015 from the same foundation.
 
That brings us to the release of Sturgill’s 3rd solo effort “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth”.  Mentioned in my new releases blurb last week, this album was pretty highly anticipated by me and it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s a loose concept album based on a sailor writing letters back home to his wife and family while he’s away at sea.  Simpson manages to bridge sounds of classic ‘70s albums but expands the palette of what you would have heard back then.  Horn sections pop up on many songs, there’s rock, progressive folk, soul, strings – you name it.  Simpson does not shy away from bringing in any musical elements he wants to explore; he will not be pigeonholed.  Simpson self-produced this album, and was able to indulge in all of his whims.  I love this album, and it’s much bigger as a sum of all of its parts compared to isolating individual tracks.  Given that, I’m going to share a couple of tracks that fall in the middle of the album.  I highly recommend listening to “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” from start to finish though.  Also, an added bonus is the gorgeous cover art, one of my favorite album covers in quite a while. 
 

 
“Brace For Impact (Live A Little)” – Probably the song with the best groove on the album, this song brings out a lot of different instrumentation.  Ringing guitars, a solid bassline, horns, organ – it’s all here on this track. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sz7cBnlhhG4 – live version on Colbert’s late night show
 
“In Bloom” – If this sounds familiar to you, it’s a cover of Nirvana.  But the only part that would sound familiar are the lyrics.  Simpson makes this song his own, completely changing up the arrangement and it sounds perfectly at home within the context of his album.  The soft approach with the lyrics is very effective.  Sturgill grabs a hold of this song, wrestles it down and completely makes it his own.

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