Sturgill Simpson isn’t the first and he won’t be the last artist to try to reignite the dying embers of Outlaw country. However, unlike his more pedestrian peers, Sturgill seeks to breathe new life into old flames. Metamodern Sounds In Country Music doesn’t warmly crackle with comforting nostalgia; it blazes wildly, igniting a rye soaked floor and consuming all the 21st century accoutrements in sight. Sturgill’s proposition is simple: why be a blue jeans revivalist, when you could be a cosmic cowboy?
Phenomenal album opener “Turtles All The Way Down” lays it all on the line. He blends 70s grit with the icy drift of the celestial expanse en route to unveiling a raison d’etre that bypasses Jesus, Buddha, the sage advice of friends, LSD and a land of reptiles and turtles to reach a pleasingly universal conclusion: “Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see, but love’s the only thing that ever saved my life”.
The end product is startlingly straight-faced. Sturgill is Waylon Jennings playing in the octopus’ garden, having his cake and eating it to. His music is broken, bloody, pleading and utterly doolally. Dirt lies under his fingernails ensuring a base-level-believability that allows the listener to swallow an unflinchingly solemn cover of “The Promise” just as easily as a raucous hootenanny like “A Little Light”. Sturgill is sage, but never a blowhard; he’s a drug fuelled dreamer, but never a waster.
In between all the spiritual naval gazing and back alley boogieing, it’s worth playing tribute to the delicate interplay between Sturgill’s nylon strung acoustic and Laur Joamet’s telecaster. This contrast between the earth rooted and eternally expansive allows Metamodern Sounds In Country to slip between dimensions, transcending both country conventionality and pyschedelic whimsy to stumble upon a tangible new plane of otherworldly existence.
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