Flyinshoes Review

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          This guy’s got a couple of gigs coming up at Celtic Connections this weekend and I wonder if that great festival has ever hosted anybody so purely country. High Top Mountain was released in the States last year and has earned Sturgill Simpson the breakthrough that he’s long craved. Aiming to make the “purest…hard country album anyone has made in 30 years” he succeeded in making something that sounds both bang up to date and also totally “classic country”.

           Recorded in Nashville with producer David Cobb, the recruitment of old hands Pig Robbins on piano and Robby Turner on steel guitar ensures that the old sound gets reproduced by guys who helped make it. Robby Turner played with Waylon Jennings for some years and I guess that’s the old country hero who first comes to mind listening to Sturgill Simpson – at least for this listener who only has a passing acquaintance with “pure” country music. However, the factors which normally limit my enthusiasm for what I call “Big Hat” music (sentimentality, pseudo-macho posturing, formulaic and pedestrian music, to name a few) are here blown away by a fresh approach, bucketloads of enthusiasm, some meaty drumming and a hugely committed performance from the man himself. Simpson describes himself as a bluegrass player at heart though there’s not much of that on display in this album. Rather, it’s electric and steel guitars, honky tonk piano and that excellent drumming giving us a tour of country sounds that we’ve known all our lives. There are the slow, gruff ballads like Water in a Well and full speed, get-up-an-bop numbers like Railroad of Sin. This latter clocks in at just 2.04, demonstrating an excellent appreciation of how less is more.

         Those two musical dimensions would be more than enough for most acts but Simpson and his producer have more strings to their bow than that. He writes well, this fellow, and enjoys wordplay and humour; sure, there’s doses of sentimentality and familiar territory like “my woman treated me bad and I’m going to get even” but he leavens it with wit and energy. The publicity talks about his music being “devoid of gloss and fakery” ….well, this is country music we’re talking about here and it wouldn’t be country music if it didn’t lift us out of our dusty rut and make life seem purer and brighter. One of the great things about this genre is that it always retains a strong connection to real life as it is lived and, certainly, it would be fair to say that Sturgill Simpson has reinforced that connection. He writes from his own life and there are several references to his long struggle for any sort of recognition in the country music world. That long apprenticeship will serve him in good stead now that success has finally come knocking on his door. After Glasgow, he’ll be hanging round in the UK for a while and I see he’s playing a few gigs with Laura Cantrell, which could be rather special. He’s a blast of fresh air, this fellow, and if he forms a bridge between Nashville music and mountain music, that could be very exciting indeed.


John Davy

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November 2017

JW Roy & The Royal Family
80 pts.
A Room Full Of Strangers
Royal Family Records
Chris Hillman
79 pts.
Bidin' My Time
Turnpike Troubadours
46 pts.
Long Away From Your Heart
Bossier City Records
Jolie Holland & Samantha Parton
36 pts.
Wildflower Blues
Cinquefoil Records
Eilen Jewell
34 pts.
Down Hearted Blues
Signature Sounds
Lucinda Williams
31 pts.
This Sweet Old World
Highway 20/Thirty Tigers
JD McPherson
29 pts.
Undivided Heart & Soul
New West
Mark Martyre
26 pts.
Tom Russell
26 pts.
Folk Hotel
Frontera Records-Proper Records
Anna Tivel
25 pts.
Small Believer
Fluff And Gravy Records
Margo Price
25 pts.
All American Made
Third Man Records
Fred Wickham
22 pts.
Mariosa Delta
Thirty Days Records
Joe Henry
22 pts.
Ear Music
Whitney Rose
22 pts.
Rule 62
Six Shooter/Thirty Tigers
Dick LeMasters
18 pts.
Incompatible Things
Longneck Road Music
Jim White
18 pts.
Waffles, Triangles & Jesus
Loose Music
Peter Gallway
18 pts.
Feels Like Religion
Gallway Bay Music
Thomm Jutz
17 pts.
Crazy If You Let It
Mountain Fever Records
Kris Delmhorst
16 pts.
The Wild
Blue Blade Records
Daniel Crabtree
15 pts.
In The Shadow Of His Wings
Jeremy Pinnell
15 pts.
Ties Of Blood And Affection
Sofaburn Records
Julien Baker
15 pts.
Turn Out The Lights
Amber Cross
14 pts.
Savage on the Downhill
Chris Blevins
14 pts.
Better than Alone
Horton Records
David Rawlings
14 pts.
Poor David's Almanack
Acony Records
Grainne Duffy
14 pts.
Where I Belong
Jeff Crosby
14 pts.
Postcards From Magdalena
At The Helm Records

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