Sturgill Simpson | Riviera Theatre | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Sturgill Simpson 18+ Early Warnings (Music) Sold Out (Music) Soundboard Recommended Image

When: Fri., June 3, 8 p.m. 2016

Two years ago it seemed like Sturgill Simpson was intent on bringing fresh ideas to alternative country, embracing the sound of the 70s and reflecting an uncut ennui that collided with lots of emotional darkness. With his striking new album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic), however, he makes clear he’s following no one’s agenda but his own, opening up his postoutlaw sound with heavy doses of vintage soul and southern-fried rock while somehow steering clear of arch postmodernist garbage. Here Simpson has fashioned an old-school concept record, imagining himself a sailor writing a series of letters home to his son—imparting his love, wisdom, and stories. The opener, “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” starts as a turgid piano ballad glossed with strings and tympani swells before turning into a horn-stoked (courtesy of the Dap-Kings brass) Memphis R&B stomper, and elsewhere he transforms Nirvana’s “In Bloom” into a string-and-horn-soaked anthem. What makes it all work is Simpson’s remarkable voice, a powerful howl that transplants the nasal twang of Waylon Jennings onto the late-60s spangled jumpsuit of Elvis Presley. “Keep It Between the Lines” advises his boy to keep his nose clean over a groove that shimmies like the Otis Redding classic “Hard to Handle,” while the jacked-up “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)” offers balance with a plea for us all to have some fun. As much as previous records felt estranged from current Nashville tastes, this new one arrives from outer space, and is all the more powerful because of it.

Peter Margasak

Price: sold out

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