Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rock Albums Post XVIII: Sturgill Simpson "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" (2016)

“A Sailor's Guide To Earth” by Sturgill Simpson (2016)

Genre: Alt-Country, Country, Alt-Rock, Country Soul

Label: Atlantic

Producer: Sturgill Simpson

Best Tracks: "Brace For Impact (Live A Little),” “Welcome To Earth,” “Keep It Between The Lines,” “Call To Arms”

Rating: A

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" 
Wow! That was my first impression after taking a listen to this album that was released in April 2016. This one is a bit older but is just catching on after Sturgill was nominated for two Grammy Awards (including Album of the Year). He won one Grammy for Best Country Album. I discovered the album just this week and this album is HOT! HOT! HOT! and in my mind should have won Album of the Year but of course Adele "25" won, which itself is an excellent album - but "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is far more diverse, versatile and overall a much stronger album than "25."

Sturgill Simpson shows bits of David Gray, Alex Clare, Van Morrison and Ronnie Milsap. He is an old soul at the young age of 38. He writes songs with the wisdom of a sailor who has sailed the seas of life for twice the amount of decades of his actual age.

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is categorized as a country music album and has climbed to #1 on both the country music and rock music charts as well as #1 on the folk music charts. It has also reached #3 on billboard's Top 200 albums chart. This week the album re-entered the Billboard chart at #44 with a bullet.

Though categorized as a country music album it is far more versatile than simply a country album. The depth in musicianship and lyrics puts the album in a category all it's own. This is quite simply one of the most intriguing albums of the past 20 years.

This album is full of introspection, joy and great guitar and synthesizer sounds... and Sturgill wrote all the songs to boot (except the cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom").

The album opens with the sounds of ship's bell chiming (a sound you hear on other songs throughout the album) and the beautiful tinkling of keyboards. "Welcome To Earth" sounds like a refreshing ocean morning relaxing in the mist of the ocean air. Three minutes in the song turns into a surprising upbeat Motown flavored experience with horns and R&B rhythms. As a matter of fact The Dap-Kings (famous for playing behind Sharon Jones) are the credited horn section on this song and several others on the album.

The otherworldly "Breakers Roar" is soothingly beautiful accented with country tinged steel guitars bringing out an ethereal sound that gives the song a floating feel. This song screams David Gray but so much more in it's intensity and beauty.

"Keep It Between The Lines" is a traditional country song that breaks out with a high-stepping brass section very reminiscent of 1979 era Ronnie Milsap. This immediately made me think of Milksop's '79 hit "Get It Up." The song features some hot licking slide guitar and awesome electric guitar. The rhythm section fires up the funk keeping it all in a traditional country music style.

"In Bloom" is the only song not written by Sturgill Simpson. "In Bloom" was written by Kurt Cobain and was featured on the 1992 Nirvana album "Nevermind." Sturgill took the song and made it all his own with an intense delicate power working into a storm of emotion and a wall of sound production.

Brace For Impact (Live A Little)" is my favorite song from the album for many reasons. I love the David Gilmour style guitar chords and the music video is eerie and amazing. Simpson sings this anthemic song with conviction and intensity like no other singer of this decade. "Brace For Impact" is not what you would expect to hear on a country music album. With it's pulsating electric bass opening it is a song that sounds like it could have been written for a Pink Floyd album all the while maintaining it's country music influence. "Brace For Impact" is a song about death and how different people react to it's inevitability. Sturgill's dark guitars and electronic synthesizer drive this song and turn it into an event in music that should not be missed.

"All Around You" is a great 1950s blues style country song while "Oh Sarah" is that country song filled with hurt, pain and joy.

The album closes with one of it's strongest songs. "Call To Arms" starts of with the distant sound of seagulls, ship bells and bag pipes. The bag pipes add this unusual sort of ocean sound to the song - it works quite well. Quickly the song turns funky with R&B honky tonk horns that makes the song feel like something you might have heard in the explosive 1980 film "The Blues Brothers." Let me tell you the guitar work in this song is absolutely killer. I am a huge fan of the guitar and Sturgill ranks right up there with the best of the best. The bluesy piano parts rock this song out which at points reminds me just a little bit of Elvis Presley.

"A Sailor's Guide To Earth" is one of those albums that has surprises around each corner. The musical texture is as diverse as it gets and best of all Sturgill Simpson is a really great singer. I highly recommend this album to anyone that is an avid fan of diversity in music.


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