Some touring musicians like to call themselves road warriors, but Sturgill Simpson takes that term to Mad Max extremes on Sound & Fury, the alt-country star's apocalyptic new LP. If the car speeding away from an end-of-days fireball on its cover art wasn't indication enough, the guitars that rev like engines on a lonely dystopic highway sure as hell will be.
Yes, this is a stark departure from his ethereally sincere ballad "Breakers Roar" or his tender cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom" on Simpson's preceding, Grammy winning album A Sailor's ….
Rock, riffs, and rage.
It's rare for a musician to first find success in his late thirties, but that's exactly what happened to Sturgill Simpson. A Sailor's Guide to Earth is what truly catapulted him into the limelight, and deservedly so; the semi-concept album revolving around the birth of his son was as musically captivating and adventurous as it was emotionally endearing. Although that record espoused an artful blend of country and good old fashioned rock n' roll - especially the momentous closer 'Call to Arms' - we find Sound & Fury relying less on those kinds of elaborate song structures and instead opting for a straightforward blues/psych-rock approach.
In 2017, Sturgill Simpson publicly declared that Nashville--every country musician's master--does not dictate who he is or what his music sounds like. After his third studio album, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, Simpson busked outside the 2017 Country Music Awards in protest of a statement CMA sent to journalists demanding they refrain from asking artists about the Las Vegas massacre, gun rights, or politics in general. One of the signs in his open guitar case read, mockingly, "Struggling country singer." If the country music establishment didn't feel he was fit for them, he'd show them that they were correct.
It's been a minute since we last heard from Sturgill Simpson on his genre busting, award winning, and outstanding A Sailor's Guide to Earth. Truly off the radar, particularly musically, Simpson reemerged with a George Jones sound alike deep country cut—the title track to Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die. Shortly after, word of Simpson's fourth album, Sound & Fury, surfaced along with first single "Sing Along." As many have noted, the song recalls the early '80s synth fueled boogie rock that vaulted ZZ Top into the MTV stratosphere.
When you think of Sturgill Simpson, you tend to think of the outlaws of country like Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings. You may think of when he boycotted the CMAs, playing his acoustic guitar and busking outside of the arena. I think of his rambunctious and electric SNL performance where his band tore up the stage and destroyed their instruments. So, in a twisted way, Simpson's new record, SOUND & FURY, makes sense.
O f late, any number of pop artists - Gaga, Miley, Justin Timberlake - have made country-adjacent albums, perhaps as rootsy succour in difficult times, or perhaps as heartland-courting endeavours for the Trumpian era. Country singer Sturgill Simpson, meanwhile, won a Grammy for his last record, A Sailor's Guide to Earth (2016), which champed at the bit of the genre, employing retro soul heroes the Dap-Kings as backing band, and covering Nirvana. This one bucks even harder.