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Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 9 - "A Sailor's Guide To Earth" by Sturgill Simpson

Equal parts concept album, (a letter to his son from the road), and a middle finger to the expectations of the industry, this 2016 masterpiece from Sturgill Simpson is the perfect midpoint between the traditional sound of his earlier work and the freewheeling craziness of last year's "Sound & Fury". (Full review of that here). What this album achieves is a sublime balance between the authentic country of Simpson's voice and background with the ambition and grandeur of rock. Cosmic American Music perhaps; I can imagine Gram Parsons looking down like a spectral Obi-Wan saying "well done my young padawan- the force is strong with this one".
From the lullaby-esque piano start of "Welcome To Earth(Pollywog)", (decorated with the pedal steel that adorns much of this record), and its heartfelt message that morphs into a horn-driven soul stomper, right through to the angry and urgent protest of "Call To Arms" this is a work that ebbs and flows whilst delivering towering highs.

Like many, I suspect, I discovered this album via his sublime cover of "In Bloom" which joins the list that includes Johnny Cash's "Hurt", Jimi Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower" and Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends" as covers that usurp the original and become THE version. My only criticism is that it ruined Springsteen's "Hitchhikin'" for me. Listen to them both and tell me Bruce hasn't heard it!
Simpson channels Van Morrison on "Between The Lines" with its advice to keep on the straight and narrow, and then balances it with "Brace For Impact (Live A Little)".
"Breaker's Roar" & "Sea Stories"  keep the style more traditional, whereas the aforementioned "Brace For Impact" points in the direction he would take on the next album.
I love the extensive use of the horn section throughout, that keeps the style from ever slipping into any one pigeonhole, other than that of "excellent".
If "Sound & Fury" was too out there for you then go back to this no less ambitious masterpiece and wallow in the retro sound and superb songwriting you find therein.

"If there's any doubt, there is no doubt, the gut don't never lie......"

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