Sturgill Simpson is living on his own plane. That should have been obvious from his last (and breakthrough) album, the utterly brilliant Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, and his new album makes an even stronger case for this claim.
“A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” has something to annoy/please pretty much everyone, often within a few bars of music. Gone, for the most part, are the generally sparse and somewhat old-school country sounds that marked Metamodern. In their place are heavy classical strings, along with horns from the Dap-Kings. Over that, Simpson has constructed a song cycle that focuses on his newborn son. In the middle of it, he drops in a genuinely WTF-inducing cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” (but hey, you can understand the lyrics):
It took Metamodern a while to grow on me, and then I became obsessed with it for several months. Simpson’s earned a lot of cred, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m inclined to give this album some time to work any presumptive magic it might have. Still, I’m not sure Simpson’s new work will ever really move me, but you can admire art that aims high even when you think it misses.
That last sentence is where I stand with “A Sailor’s Guide” for now. I reserve the right to change my mind.