Recommend if you like: Country music, or you’re at least willing to give it a chance.

Expectation: Country singer/songwriter Sturgill Simpson’s 3rd studio album, following 2014’s Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. Now I have to confess, I’m not a fan of the stadium rock Southern drawl pandering that comprises most of modern “country” radio, but upon hearing a few good things about Mr. Simpson I decided to give him a chance, and I’m glad that I did, because he’s more than what you might expect.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

  • Welcome to Earth (Polywog) – Starts off as a soul, folksy ballad only to adopt an upbeat swagger part way through. A pretty cool track.
  • Breakers Roar – A nice little downtempo country track. Simple but pretty.
  • Keep It Between The Lines – A lively country track filled with drawling vocals, echoing guitar slides, and a funky horn section.
  • Sea Stories – A more traditional country sound. I’m not really a fan of this kind of music, but this is probably going to appeal to true country music fans more than other tracks.
  • In Bloom – A cover of the classic Nirvana track, transfigured into a reflection on adolescence by a few clever lyrical substitutions and a softened instrumental.
  • Brace For Impact (Live a Little) – Synths were a weird choice, but they sound good so who am I to judge.
  • All Around You – A lovely little ballad track, with very sweet lyrics and great instrumental arrangements that crescendo just right.
  • Oh Sarah – Another emotionally touching track, this time directed at Sturgill’s wife. The vocals occasionally didn’t match the tone of the lyrics, but the passion in his voice is palpable.
  • Call to Arms – The most rock-oriented track on the album, but with lively funky horns that elevate it beyond mere Lynyrd Skynyrd worship. A fun closer.

Overall: I don’t know much about country music, so feel free to read this as the opinions of an outsider looking in. Sturgill Simpson is a decent songwriter with some clever ideas, a nice singing voice with an appealing range, and a great band behind him. In my opinion, this is all it should take to make country music work. The horn section in particular carries the more upbeat tracks, while Simpson’s compositional skills shine more brightly on the slower tracks. If you’re at all open to country music, give this album a shot.

Score: 6/10

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