Sturgill Simpson, ‘High Top Mountain’

From its first notes, chock-full of piercing steel guitar and a pronounced Waylon Jennings boom-chick beat, there’s no doubt Sturgill Simpson’s debut follows his intention to make “the purest, most uncompromising, hard country album anyone has made in 30 years.” Simpson seems particularly fond of a classic outlaw sound, even as he goes out of his way to disavow outlaw posturing: “the most outlaw thing I’ve ever done is to give a good woman a ring,” he sings on the album’s get-over-it leadoff, “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean.” He’s got a powerful, slurry singing voice that really puts the moan in his material, and he’s a fine songwriter with a penchant for making art out of his own life — paying tribute to his grandfather (“Hero”), portraying the vanishing coal-mining way of life in which he grew up (“Old King Coal”), and dishing up a hilarious lament about the musician’s life (“You Can Have the Crown”). If you’re partial to old-school country, Sturgill Simpson is a newcomer worth keeping an eye on. (Out now)


ESSENTIAL “You Can Have the Crown”


Stuart Munro can be reached at