Apr 18, 2016
Album Review: Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
A review by Robert Dean
Being a father, some things get to you. You start to question a lot of your life choices, what you’ve achieved, what your health is like, and what kind of legacy you’re leaving for your kids. On Sturgill Simpson’s new album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, the eclectic troubadour explores the ups and downs of fatherhood for his young son, the only way Sturgill Simpson knows how.
Track by track, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is a logical follow-up to the massively successful Metamodern Sounds in Country Music – it’s even riskier, bolder and is entirely his own. The record is a complicated onion of layers, emotions, and sounds. To even call it country is almost impossible.
While country is prevalent throughout the themes of A Sailor’s Guide, the songs are darker, the songs are deeply personal, everything isn’t a story carved out of some Nashville guy’s notepad, it’s Sturgill’s actual life – his mistakes, his moments of glory. This record is a play by play of what it’s like to be a man in a world that can be cruel with absolute certainty.
But, that’s not to say the record isn’t brilliant. It’s easy to see why when other country artists are relegated to a strictly country or Americana, or roots audience while Sturgill finds love in all corners. Being one of the few to play the main stage at festivals like Coachella one weekend, and Lollapalooza, the next, Sturgill Simpson is in a world unto his own.
This batch of songs, they’re beautiful, ugly and oceanic – one minute everything feels like 1970’s Stax straight from Memphis, oozing with Soul, and the next, we’re tonally somber with the reflections of a man who’s atop of the world. The horns are vibrant and bright, they lend so much, then we’re treated to the juicy organ. There’s just so much going on; it’s almost too creamy, too delicious to fathom the heads exploding out there in country blinder land. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is NOT for the Luke Bryan fans of the world. (Editor's note: It's not even for a lot of Americana fans, apparently)
"Keep It Between The Lines" is a groovy, funky, filthy jam. It’s pure cool that can’t be replicated; it’s the kind of song that just…happens. It’s one of those brilliant moments when it all comes together in a song and works – if Sturgill tried to recreate it at any time again in his career it would never work. "Brace For Impact," the record’s first single is a foot stomper that sets the bar pretty high upon first listen. But, in typical fashion, the album’s single isn’t even the first track, it’s near the end of the record. Instead, we’re taken down a musical road that’s long and winding with sonic overtures that feel more Pink Floyd than Waylon.
"All Around You" is almost as if Sturgill found a way to marry doo-wop and traditional country in the most decadent, salacious way, tasting like pure chocolate cake. And then there’s the elephant in the room: Sturgill's take on the Nirvana classic "In Bloom." And to be honest, it’s the only way covering Nirvana works. Kurt Cobain left a legacy that’s along the lines of Jim Morrison, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, The Stones: when you cover the music, you’ll always be harshly judged for your vision of what perfection is.
"In Bloom" was covered in a way that would please Kurt, it’s haunting, stark and without the jagged vibrato of the original, and by doing so, the song stands on its own amongst an album that’s thick and just goddamned perfect.
Behold world, Sturgill has done it again. Buy A Sailor’s Guide To Earth right now and help us throw gasoline on the establishment while Sturgill Simpson is the preaching madman we’ve all been waiting for. Let his church welcome all those who are lost and share his message: get weird, or die tryin’.
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