Sturgill Simpson: ‘A Sailor’s guide to Earth’

April 21, 2016


Features Editor| jts040@ latech.edu


Atlantic Records

Atlantic Records


Country music is in an odd state of lack of flux. Its high-grossing artists like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean continue to make bro-country ballads designed solely to make dogs howl in pain while artists like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton skirt the boundaries of what country is now considered, billed alternately as “alt-country” or “Americana.”



Enter Sturgill Simpson, the DMT-addled country troubadour with sad eyes and sadder lyrical content.



Simpson’s 2014 release, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” was the most inspired outlaw country release in recent history, blending Waylon-style crooning with psychedelic lyrics.



He rapidly became known as the country artist loved by people who don’t like country artists.



Simpson has not stagnated in his acclaim, though. His new album, “A  Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” is less concerned with psychedelic metaphysicality and more concerned with his newfound fatherhood.



Simpson’s son is the genesis and focal point of the album. Filtered through a funky horn section, the album exists as a instruction manual to guide his son through life’s trials.



The album seems to pick up with his birth, with Simpson crooning “Hello my son, welcome to Earth,” in the album’s introductory line.



The track list shifts in between direct addresses to his son like “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” and “Keep it Between the Lines” and advisory tales like “Call to Arms” and “Breakers Roar.”



Simpson’s past in the Navy comes through on the album in spades.



Nautical themes draw the album together. Simpson considers touring his sea, fighting with both the allure of the sailor’s/musician’s life and the call of home.



On “Sea Stories,” and to a more extreme extent, “Call to Arms,” Simpson bemoans the destruction of self he sees as inherent to a military career.



He tells his son on “Call to Arms,” “Well son I hope you don’t grow up / believing you’ve got to be a puppet to be a man.”



It’s a “Born in the U.S.A” for the 2010s, minus any capacity for misunderstanding. Simpson is pissed here, and it shows.



Before the announcement of the album, Simpson told “GQ” he had been sitting on new material in order to avoid touring for it. “Quite honestly, I need about six months at home with my family,” he said.



His love/hate relationship with touring is all over the album. On “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” and “Oh Sarah” he tells his wife and son respectively his wandering from home does not mean he is abandoning them.



He tells his wife (on “Oh Sarah”) “Out on the road is where I’m going to find my way.”



The album’s most interesting experiment is his cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”



Simpson said he added the song because it was what he was listening to at age 13, stating, “For me, that song has always summed up what it means to be a teenager, and I think it tells a young boy that he can be sensitive and compassionate — he doesn’t have to be tough or cold to be a man.”



There’s nobody in country music who is doing it quite like Simpson. Missing out on an album like this is a tragedy.


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