Every once in a while a country record comes along that just blows me away. I just found Sturgill Simpson's second album yesterday and I've listened to it end to end about six times now. It's called Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and from top to bottom I cannot get it off my playlist. Right from the first track,"Turtles All The Way Down" you know you are in for a strange ride. It sounds like vintage Waylon C&W... wait.. acid? Turtles all the way down? WTF is this? It might sound like C&W but Sturgill's letting you know this is not your run-of-the-mill recording.
But track 3, "Living the Dream" is the one that kills me. The lyrics itself are cool:
Ain't no point getting out of bed when you ain't living the dream
Like to make a big ole' pot of coffee when you ain't got no cream
I don't have to change my strings because the dirt don't hurt the way I sing
I don't have to do a goddamn thing but sit around and wait around to die
But I'm never into music for the lyrics. I need two things to get interested in a tune.
1. The music's gotta be interesting enough to engage my brain
2. The voice needs texture. Either brutal growls, raspy snarls, smokey whiskey like Tom Waits, seductive crazy from Skye or the smooth beauty of Johnny Hartman, it's the texture of the vocals that draws me in and gets me to listen until I catch the lyrics. Sturgill's delivery here in Living the Dream just kills me. The pause... I don't have to change my strings because the dirt don't hurt... pause... the way I sing... pause pause pause.... I don't have to do a GODDAMN THING but WAIT AROUND to DIE.
But it's cheerful. Music's not supposed to be depressing and the heart of country music is cheerfulness in the middle of catastrophe. This is a cheerful song and anyone who hears that slide guitar knows it.
And that leads me to the next part of this record that just absolutely kills me -- the production. It's dirty. It's nasty. It's got hisses, pops and fuzz. It's deliberately messy and it is one hundred percent intentional. The dirty slide guitar part that takes Living the Dream to the next level could just as easily be a super clean lap steel, but instead it sounds like a 1974 Telecaster with a slide made out of an old Bud Light bottle. No nice gibson semi-hollow could make a sound that vicious. It's on purpose and it's dirty, mean, and pure awesome.
It just gets better from there. While Living the Dream is easily my favorite track, there's not a bad tune the rest of the way out. It's brilliant songwriting... ("When a picture's worth a thousand words and a word ain't worth a time / they'll just keep on talking till the end of time"), brilliant country music, and well thought out production -- combined with as good a country singer as you'll ever hear. The only thing I can complain about is it's about fifteen minutes too short, but there's something to be said for leaving them wanting more.
It's up there with Straight to Hellon the list of Country records I cannot get off my playlist. I just checked and the closest Sturgill is coming to me is New York on a weeknight in July, and I'm half considering trying to go anyhow. If you listen to one country record this year, make it this one.
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music