It’s surprising that outlaw country has yet to experience a full-fledged resurgence by a new wave of musicians.
Or then again, maybe not: As long as Willie Nelson is still alive and performing, do we really need a new generation of musicians to take up the torch?
One listen to Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 album “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” provides the listener an answer in the affirmative.
Simpson’s likely to be the herald of a new wave of outlaw-style country musicians. It’s a great candidate for revival, given its solid, funky rhythms, its well-made tropes and the fact it makes for damn good bar music.
Simpson has a solid grasp of outlaw fundamentals: A great voice that all but channels the great Waylon Jennings; catchy melodies; aggressive yet restrained guitar solos.
But he also pushes the boundaries enough to make the music his own. Probably the most publicized twist has been his lyrical content, which balances spiritual questing, complete with mentions of Jesus, the devil, Buddha and of course love on “Turtles All the Way Down,” with explicit drug references: One lyric in the same tune name-drops “Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, DMT.” Another song is called “Long White Line” and works both as a road song and ode to cocaine. It’s not like the old outlaws didn’t mention their experiments with various mind-altering substances, but this certainly is kicking it up a notch.
Simpson’s band isn’t afraid to push the edges, either, and this really is where the album shines. The music goes spacey several times, most notably the ostensible album closer (actually the next to last track) “It Ain’t All Flowers,” which uses backwards tracking.
I came upon “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” almost by chance, when a friend asked me via Twitter if I’d heard it. Since that first listen, though, it and Mastodon’s “Once More Round the Sun” have gone a long way toward defining my summer.