Sturgill Simpson debuted with an old-school country blast in 2013, and then injected psychedelica and opaque metaphysics into that base with “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.” Now, the birth of Simpson’s son and the separation entailed by a touring musician have occasioned “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.” A song cycle in the form of a letter to his son, the set spans wonder and remorse, rumination and rage, autobiographical recountings and fatherly advice by turns mundane (“stay in school“) and cosmic (“a universal heart, glowing, flowing all around you“). Simpson employs strings, horns (from the Dap-Kings), and the occasional bagpipe to once again expand the confines of his country. “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)” starts the record with a foreboding sound that moves to stately piano and tremolo strings before exploding into soul. Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is turned into sweeping countrypolitan; “All Around You” offers killer country soul. “A Sailor’s Guide” confirms that Simpson isn’t content to stand in the same place for very long.
ESSENTIAL “All Around You“Stuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.