He’s the mystery man who’s made it into the Grammys Album of The Year category against pop MVPs Adele, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Drake, with a name that sounds like a company that supplies parts for vintage motorcycles.
That name is Sturgill Simpson and he was born in Kentucky 38 years ago on June 8, making him exactly one year younger than Kanye West, whose ‘The Life Of Pablo’ album was snubbed – some think cruelly – in the Grammys’ top category. Maybe the two Geminis can get together for Kanye’s 40th – and Sturgill’s 39th – next year and make peace. Until then however, Sturgill is going to have to come to terms with the fact he’s about to become quite famous indeed.
Now based in Nashville, the country singer-songwriter’s nominated album, ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’, is his third, following 2013’s self-funded ‘High Top Mountain’ and 2014’s ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’, which were both released on the British independent label Loose.
His solo career came after a stint in the US navy and in bluegrass band Sunday Valley, as well as working a job straight out of a country music song for the Union Pacific Railroad. After playing local open mics, his wife and mates convinced him to make an album. The rest is history.
‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ might have been a shock inclusion in the Album of The Year category, but it is undoubtedly a stunning piece of work, mixing Sturgill’s rough and ready but deeply emotive outlaw country style, which harks back to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, with glossy, groove-driven production afforded by signing to major label Atlantic. One of the record store and label Rough Trade’s best albums of 2016, the nine track release features a beautiful cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ which deserves to be on every chillout playlist you ever make from this moment onwards. ‘Breakers Roar’ offers more meditative, sweetly orchestrated soulful country complete with mournful pedal steel guitar that’ll have you weeping into your mince pies – Willie Nelson, eat your heart out. ‘Brace For Impact (Live A Little)’ ups the pace and hints at Sturgill’s occasional fondness for 1970s psychedelia and Stax style big band soul (yep, that is the Dap-Kings you can hear here).
So that’s Sturgill Simpson. We like him. You might do too.