Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
(High Top Mountain)
4 out of 5 stars

Apart from its clever Ray Charles-reference title, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, the second album from singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson, is a traditionalist statement through and through. As a singer, Simpson is a walking dictionary of classic male country vocalists. He is an expressive vocalist that can conjure the aching pain of George Jones, the deep melodrama of Charlie Rich, or the subversive grit of Merle Haggard on the turn of a phrase.

There’s been quite a bit of fuss about the drug-fueled psychedelia that leaves its stamp on Simpson’s sound this time around, but take away the opening and closer track of Metamodern, and you’re left with one of the most reverent takes on country music in years.

Simpson leads us through on a trip through honky-tonks and roadhouses on “Life of Sin” and “Living the Dream,” two hard-nosed early album highlights that owe plenty to Bakersfield. He then takes us to church on the gospel-country rave-up “A Little Light” after spending most of the album waxing sarcastic on His Holiness (“that old man upstairs, he wears a crooked smile/staring down on at the chaos he created”).

One of the most daring, and successful, tracks on the record is a cover of When In Rome’s 1988 New Wave hit “The Promise.” Simpson turns the song into a countrypolitan torch song that culminates in a cathartic release when Simpson interrupts his tender croon and breaks into his pained cry during the song’s final, dramatic chorus.

When he’s singing his own songs, Simpson is a deft lyricist, wise enough to get out of the way of his own funny, empathetic narratives. “I woke up today and decided to kill my ego,” he sings on “Just Let Go.” Simpson lets his band, and his songs, do the talking on Metamodern Sounds, which is surely one of the very best straight up country records of 2014.