“If there’s any doubt there is no doubt”: Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016)

Hard to believe it’s been 3 years since Sturgill Simpson released Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.  His second album found him dragging outlaw country right into these troubled modern times (and drawing comparisons to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and the likes).  It was a far better album than the hype would suggest (yeah, I know, it was a highly acclaimed album, but it was awesome) and it wasn’t just witty, funny and dark, it was deep and philosophical.  It included all sorts of good vibes, an outstanding cover choice and reptile aliens made of light.  That, my friends, is what I want from my country music.

It was inevitable that Sturgill would find himself in the crosshairs of a major label and it was pretty huge when it was announced that he’d signed with Atlantic Records.  Now he’d get that Grammy, we thought.  Now he’s gonna make something that’ll blow our minds.  And, well, he did.  A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is quite a shift.  He left his first two records behind and drew from his experiences in the Navy, a letter that his grandfather wrote to his grandmother, and wrote his own letter to his wife and newborn son.  As a result, it’s his most personal album to date.  As you can imagine, there are strings.  There are also horns.  A lot of horns.  The whole thing is just a funky piece of sentimental country music.  The influences are wide… I hear Glen Campbell, Lowell George and (Aloha from Hawaii) Elvis.


Unfortunately, my opinion of it shifted over the last 12 months.  The punch in the gut I got when I hear the opening lines of Welcome to Earth (Pollywog) is still there despite my tiring of the horns and the fact there’s no answer to why he now knows the reason why his grandfather always said God’s a fisherman.  My love for that track (despite the horns) is down to timing – given that I was fairly new to the parenthood game myself.  “Hello, my son welcome to Earth.  You may not be my last but you’ll always be my first.  Wish I’d done this ten years ago”.  I can relate to it, y’know?

Anyhoo, as you’ll have guessed, the mood is very different to that of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and the Dap-Kings ensure that it’s a bit more, eh, brash and, perhaps a bit too loud.  Point taken, Sturgill.  There’s joy and then there’s shouting from the rooftops with a brass band when you don’t really need them.

It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I consider the best moments to be the quieter tracks like Breakers Roar, his take of Nirvana’s In Bloom and Oh Sarah.  Two of which appear on Side A.  Also, as good as In Bloom is (it could be the best thing here?), it does throw the song cycle a bit.

There’s some of that wit and humour in there, though.  There are also things that I can relate to and things that will speak to an audience that may not normally buy into this whole thing (lines like “maybe get high, play a little GoldenEye on that old ‘64” from Sea Stories) as well as the token protest song (Call To Arms), but perhaps the references to the Navy and sea living has me feeling a bit alienated.  That and the horns.  A lot of horns.

So, aye, while my initial impressions were positive, I’ve found that it doesn’t deliver much else on repeated listens and, well, it’s not one I’ll revisit all that often, I’m afraid.  It’s not a bad album – the songs are well crafted and it’s clear that he and his co-conspirators have put a lot of care into making it – it’s just not all that engaging after a while.  I appreciate the sonic expansiveness of this new Sturgill Simpson Revue, I really do.  But there’s just nothing that holds my attention and makes me think the way Metamodern Sounds in Country Music does.

And yeah, he did get that Grammy.  If only the weight of Atlantic Records was behind Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

I hope he comes back to shore for his next release.

** This is the standard vinyl edition.  There’s a ‘limited edition’ version on blue vinyl, which comes in the same gatefold sleeve.  As well as the printed inner sleeve, it includes a poster.

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26 Comments Add yours

  1. mikeladano says:

    So you had no way of knowing this, but I love nautical artwork and maps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      This one would be ideal for you, then! (well, aside from the music, I’m guessing). Honestly, the artwork is pretty stunning.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Sarca says:

      Must be the Cancer in us, Mike…I have always been attracted to water. I love lighthouses. I really liked the artwork on this album.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. mikeladano says:

        I have lighthouse wallpaper all around me right now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sarca says:

        Lighthouse wallpaper that you put up?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. mikeladano says:

        Believe it or not it came with the house and I never changed it. But I have nautical stuff everywhere. A little lighthouse letter holder, little wooden lobster trap, etc.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. J. says:

        That’s awesome!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. 1537 says:

    Gawd I hate all those old country cliches about getting high and playing on the Commodore 64! Time to move on fellas!

    I didn’t like the version of ‘In Bloom’ very much, but I did a bit of research and found this – which I liked a whole lot more:

    Liked by 3 people

    1. J. says:

      In Bloom is this album’s The Promise (though admittedly it’s not as good).

      That video there is superb, eh? That’s Sturgill at his best, I reckon. You would likely like Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stephen1001 says:

        And in an almost identical comment to the one I just wrote on Joe’s site, isn’t it disappointing when you’re initially quite into something and then they don’t keep our attention?!
        I think I like horns as an occasional feature but from the clips you & 1537 posted, I think he’s one of those artists I’d much rather hear just vocals + acoustic, as he gets no shortage of power from just that combo!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. J. says:

        I think the strength of the previous two albums really highlighted how unnecessary the horns are. Plus, the songs are stronger… rich and deep.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Paul Kerr says:

    My third favourite Sturgill album (which still makes it pretty great). He turned up in Glasgow last night to sing a song with John Prine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. J. says:

      Third place in my Sturgill list, too. A distant third, though.

      Turned up just for a song? That’s not something you’d expect, eh? He was in the neighbourhood?

      Like

  4. Neil says:

    I still like it but I am a sucker for brass in country, and brass in pocket. I do like the guitar band stuff too though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I dare say if I wasn’t such a huge fan of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music I would still be enjoying this one loads.

      But, certainly not a bad album, I think I just don’t feel all that engaged… which might be because I can’t relate to an awfy lot of it.

      … and I wish there was more of Laur Joamets guitar over it. He’s incredible.

      Like

  5. Wonderful artwork.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Yes – really pretty brilliant. The overall package is really great.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jay says:

    It’s less hard for me to believe since I don’t know this at all. I do love the artwork though. Too bad it doesn’t quite deliver.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      The artwork is pretty stellar and, well, might be worth keeping around just to look at. Maybe.

      Like

  7. Bylle Breaux says:

    This is great! I hated the horns too until I saw it live. Now I want horns in everything.

    Like

    1. J. says:

      It would be interesting to see how it comes across in the live setting. I’ve caught some footage and thought he seemed a bit awkward without his guitar.

      Like

  8. Richard Laform says:

    You make some points that are at least valid but how does it feel to be an assclown sitting Round blogging about motherfuckers who are out there T the outer boundaries of what they do and critique their horns…(honestly there’s too many horn sings but we only have a handful of true motherfuckers left let em make the songs as they hear them in their head) but to say that call to arms us a ‘token’ protest song is lazy listening, and lazier writing. Watch these motherfuckers play that shit live on am I, the organ player lost his sponsorship for banging the organ too hard. That song is outrageous it doesn’t take either of the obvious right left paths that mists political songs take. Sturgill is a thoughtful dude which is what drew me to him before I even heard his music. That’s not a token anything it represents a real tough spot the modern military family finds itself in…where pride and faith meet reason and logic. Without knowing your background I have a tough time with you dismissing the position of a navy veteran who in post military life has explored different viewpoints on what it is we’re doing as a country. We need more military insiders to question the mission and to write off this song as a token protest does it a real disservice. Country music can be a major platform for change in America right now, having seen Trump take many coy try music and military type states on his way to the presidency. Honestly when country people talk about how they hate coastal elitist liberals they are talking about you. And go fuck yourself.

    Like

  9. Richard Laform iii says:

    Also I am drunk and there are many typos. Let me make this clear:
    1. Go fuck yourself
    2. Sturgill Simpson is a bad motherfucker
    3. You are not. You are a soft as pampers bitch ass clown motherfucker
    F. Yew that’s an f bitch right after the 3 real motherfuckers don’t follow your alpamhanumerical system of oppression (#lolllzzzz) ( gotta admit that’s funny for a dude who accid3ntally stumbled across your blog wasted looking for lyrics to a song I’ve heard 1000 times to show a gi4k who is asle2p as in leaf i g comments on WordPress blogs

    Like

  10. Richard Laform iii says:

    Ps I have no idea who you are but right now I think it would be hilarious to start an internet shit talk battle with a random WordPress blogger so hill at cha boy I set my thing to email me when there’s a response. Talk shit to me, maybe about how the bible is incomplete as a narrative of human existence or how Shakespeare misses certain essential plot elements in Macbeth and hamlet and shit, 2 arguments that will prove as ridiculous as your weaksauce critique of the only guy fighting for the soul of rural america.
    #deepasfuckkkkkkk
    #pleaserrespond im.bored and would love for you to surprise me by not being a dullard and flashing some fun shit talk

    #Milquetoast

    Like

  11. Richard Laform iii says:

    Have you ever gotten so many wordpress commemts at 2 am that your girl thought you were cheating when your phone keeps going off?
    Probably not because anyone with as lame opinions as yours is unlikely to be allowed to have girls over in moms basement. Or at least that’s your excuse. You can’t gave girls over because they don’t want to hang out with you because you can listen to sturgill Simpson and go “What this calls for is for me to be critical of it online”. Also because chicks HATTTEEE fucking at your mommy’s house. As a guy who used to have yo fuck chicks at my parents house, for sure I can say move out immediately. Then stop hating on badass motherfuxkers. Maybe then

    Like

  12. Richard Laform iii says:

    Yo please delete all these comments and disregard I’m sorry for being a dick. Don’t even know what to say. Didn’t mean any of it. Drunk as fuck. My apologies

    Like

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