Listen to “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth,” the psychedelic honky-tonker’s follow-up to his Grammy-nominated “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.”
Imagine if the “Okie From Muskogee” had a different attitude regarding certain mind-altering substances, coming to the conclusion that perhaps white lightning isn’t the biggest thrill after all, and you’ve got an idea of Simpson’s sound. It’s a blend of classic pedal steel, white-hot electric guitar, and the songwriter’s old-school, deep-chested drawling vocal delivery reminiscent of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. It’s something altogether new, strange and beautiful, and yet it has a comforting, classic country sound. For his new, self-produced third album, Simpson enlisted the Dap-Kings to add soulful horns somewhat akin to the recently deceased Haggard’s progressive 1970s sound.
As strong as Simpson’s songwriting is, perhaps the Side 1-ending cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” gives the best idea what he’s doing. While Kurt Cobain & co.’s original was a ragged primal howl, Simpson at once slows it down and punches it up with Vegas-worthy horns — and one changed line in the lyric gives the song an entirely new depth.
Give it a listen, and then hit your favorite record store to pick up a physical copy Saturday. We can only imagine how much better it will sound on vinyl with its analog warmth, hisses, and pops.
Photography: Reto Sterchi/Courtesy Loose Music