Count Simpson among a handful of like-minded acts like Dave Gleason, Moot Davis, Mike Stinson, Tillford Sellars, Daniel Romano and veteran torch bearer Marty Stuart who want to play, write and perform classic country music in a way that the powers that be neither want or seem to accept anymore.
These 12 original songs are steeped in the sound of the past but are given a jolt of today's energy that takes them out of pastiche or parody and into something more relevant. Yes I have heard the arguments that country music must change to survive, but I question when the survival throws the baby out with the bath water. I have never met a Taylor Swift fan who has discovered real country music through Swift’s tunes. It reminds me of the excuses given that line-dancing would expand the country audience, which is something that I never found to be the case.
Back to the music that Sturgill Simpson has recorded on his debut album; pedal steel is well to the fore, and when it is played by Robbie Turner you know you're in safe hands. Add the piano of Hargus "Pig" Robbins and the other fine players and you understand these guys know exactly what they need to deliver. Recorded at Hillbilly Central and Falling Rock studios and produced by Dave Cobb, who has helmed a wide range of music as producer, guitarist and bassist. Here Cobb has given the songs what they need; warmth, clarity and energy. There are subtle uses of Mellotron strings on some tracks to give them a touch of countrypolitan. Speaking of which; whatever happened to the great Mike Ireland who explored that sound some years back?
The songs are all written about the concerns of being a working musician, the working man and someone who is working out relationships and reasons to be who he is. The title of the opening song kind of sums the album up in many ways Life ain't Fair and the WorldiIs Mean. A song like Old King Coal considers the life of a miner. Sitting Here without You is classic heartbreak. And so it goes across this eminently playable album.
Sturgill Simpson comes from a small town in Kentucky and the album is named for a cemetery where many of his family are buried, but as the cover illustration indicates this is not in any way a depressing collection. Rather, there is a positivity and colour to the performance that rings of integrity. He has a voice that echoes other classic country singers (not least Waylon Jennings) but one that will be become as distinctive as his heroes given time.