Sturgill Simpson

Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – 2014 (High Top Mountain)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Sturgill Simpson

The first time you hear Sturgill sing you may feel like you've heard a ghost - the ghost of Waylon Jennings, that is. Although his voice isn't as low as Jennings' was, it's nevertheless still in the same general vocal range ballpark. Better still, the Kentucky native sings wonderfully honest country songs. "Life of Sin," for instance, is a song about, well, sinning, which is really some of what great country is all about.

Yes, most of this album will do a traditional-country-loving-heart good. Even so, though, there is one true wildcard in the bunch. "It Ain't All Flowers" finds Simpson admitting, "I've been dancing with the demons all my life." And at a few points, Simpson can be heard howling at the moon. Adding to its spooky, swampy vibe, this song includes some moody, psychedelic electric guitar. The track may be a country mile away from a traditional country arrangement, but the power and passion Simpson sings it with is so goose bump inducing-ly real, you don't really care. This is strong stuff, no matter the style.

Simpson comes off like a manly man most of the time during "Metamodern Sounds in Country Music." He does take a bluster break with "The Promise," though, which finds the performer singing a truly moving apology song. You may recognize this song, if you listen carefully, for it's a cover of When In Rome's synth-pop hit. It shows just how good Simpson is because he totally transforms it and makes it his own. It also reveals some fine lyrics previously hidden beneath obnoxious '80s production values.