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Sturgill Simpson • A Divergent Journey To/From Nashville

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… do you dare to summarize a piece of art that is so complex, yet at times seems so straightforward?

How do you explain an album that would take a lot of introspection, and a couple of days of multiple listening sessions, just to attempt to wrap your head around it? In what way do you dare to summarize a piece of art that is so complex, yet at times seems so straightforward? It sounds like country music…But this isn’t your Papaw’s country. Metamodern Sounds in County Music is the sophomore album of Sturgill Simpson. The title is a twist and nod to Ray Charles’ great album, Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music.

Words like, philosophical, ethereal, introspective, and, bizarre came up.

Wow, where to start?! Sturgill Simpson is not your typical country music singer. His voice sounds like he is; but man, when you dig into the lyrics, you’ll wonder what the hell you’re listening to. Hell, you might start thinking about your own life and do a little soul-searching yourself. All I can say is that this is deep…really deep, and very reflective. I started reading stories about Simpson’s sophomore album and became curious. Words like, philosophical, ethereal, introspective, and, bizarre came up. After listening to the song “Turtles All the Way Down”, I was shaking my head too, but was captivated.

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“…you can walk into on a Friday or Saturday night — back then there’d be six people in there…”

Simpson was born in Jackson, KY and eventually moved to Versailles, KY in his childhood. He left for a stint in the US Navy, was stationed in Japan, and eventually moved back to the Lexington, KY area. In 2005 he moved to Nashville, TN for about nine months, more interested in meeting old time country and bluegrass players. As Sturgill states in an NPR Music interview,

I didn’t find a lot of similar-minded folks in town: pop-country was really at saturation at that point, and what is now described as the “hip” Nashville scene wasn’t really there yet. You know, any of those bars in East Nashville that are hotspots that you can walk into on a Friday or Saturday night — back then there’d be six people in there.”

A lot of heavy stuff and getting pretty obsessive about it.

Eventually he gave up and moved out west to work for the Railroad. He was married and doing the responsible thing, working a job in management. He was miserable. It was because of this trying time in his life that he brought out the guitar again. Ultimately, the fans have to give a great big thank you to his wife, when she said, “You know, you don’t exactly suck at this, and you’re gonna wake up and be 40 and know that you never tried to do what you really love.” They sold all of their possessions and moved to Nashville. It was after finding out that his wife was pregnant that he began reading, in his words, “A lot of heavy stuff and getting pretty obsessive about it.” Again, it was his wife that suggested he write songs about it so that he didn’t drive her crazy, and, get it out of his system. What followed was one unbelievable album. It touches on life, experiences, fate, how former heartbreak can have an influence on one’s future; and, eventually how Love ties everything together to become a better happy human being.

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… seeing God in your best friend’s eyes, reptile aliens cutting out your pain, the myth of space and time

For example, the song “Just Let Go,” the opening line is, “Woke up today and decided to kill my ego/it never done me no good no how”. That was just a taste of this song. There’s a lot going on in this one song alone; however, there are still eight other songs to hear! An album review does not do this album justice. One could write a whole damn philosophical master’s thesis on this album…I’m not joking either.

Turtles All the Way Down” is a song that hits on drug use, Jesus playing with flames, Buddha showing a light flowing from within, seeing God in your best friend’s eyes, reptile aliens cutting out your pain, the myth of space and time, and also questions religion. Again…master’s thesis!

You don’t have to do a goddamn thing except sit around and wait to die.

Living the Dream” asks questions that people ponder every day. After all, what’s the use getting up when you aren’t living the dream? Making a pot of coffee when you don’t have cream? You don’t have to do a goddamn thing except sit around and wait to die. How can a person not stop and wonder after hearing the message in this song? Many of us all have the same thoughts daily.
There’s a cover of the late 80s one hit wonder, “The Promise”, that just proves that sometimes a song with a universal message can be done in any genre, if done well. Has not everyone at some point in their life had that person you’d do anything for? Selfishly, stupidly, and almost obsessively, want to be with someone so much, think you’re in love, but the feelings are not reciprocated? Tender pain and wanting tinge this song in an aching, gentle way.

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It Ain’t All Flowers” is the deep search song. The song where being honest with oneself is “getting the thorn,” or playing with the Devil, “you know you’re gonna get the horn” and how eventually, you just have to let all the pain go. This song is a mix of trippy, psychedelic, echoing guitars, lamenting vocal howls, and a reverse tape ending that definitely appears to be giving a great big middle finger to present country music. That isn’t Simpson’s intention and he’s stated that as such.
Simpson says he doesn’t really listen to country music anymore and listens to all kinds of different genres and it shows. Simpson himself has stated that he may be committing career ending suicide with this album, and he doesn’t care. The fact of the matter is, perhaps Nashville should be listening. It sure seems like there is a lot of stale, overly produced, pop-country coming out that doesn’t necessarily sound or have the heart of what country music is or was. Ultimately, this whole album is simply about letting go and giving into pure love and being a happier individual for doing so. Can you go backwards in a genre and move it forward; I think that Sturgill Simpson just proved it with this album.

Want more from Sturgill Simpson? Of course you do! Check him out here:

Sturgill Simpson Official Website

Special kilScene Contributor
•Hunter MacLeod

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