Sturgill Simpson is something of an oddity in the country music soundscape. His 2014 Release Metamodern Sounds in Country Music explored his fascination with philosophy, and 2019’s Sound and Fury was accompanied by a feature-length anime film. But I believe his best work arrived in 2016 with A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
It would be a gross mischaracterization to call A Sailor’s Guide a country album: sure, there is an undeniable twang to Sturgill Simpson’s voice, but to assign a single identifier to this multifaceted project would be a disservice. Ethereal string arrangements found in “Welcome to Earth” and “Oh Sarah” suggest chamber pop influence, intricate horn sections in “Keep it Between the Lines” and “All Around You” are indicative of funk and soul, and lap steel guitars in “Breaker’s Roar” and “Sea stories” keep the album steeped in Southern sensibilities. Simpson and his band even manage to sneak a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” into the tracklist and it sounds completely at home.
In terms of lyrical content, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is essentially a love letter to Sturgill Simpson’s firstborn child. In classic dad fashion, he shares stories of his younger days in order to give his son guidance. From his teenage years spent selling drugs and smashing mailboxes to his young adult years traveling the world in the Navy, it seems Simpson has led an eventful life. As he says on “Keep it Between the Lines”: “Do as I say, don’t do as I’ve done/It don’t have to be like father like son.”
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is many things, but boring is not one of them. Its kaleidoscopic sound makes it appealing to fans of any genre – I am by no means a country music fan, but I am certainly a fan of this album. If you’ve never heard it, I encourage you to give it a try!
Favorite tracks: Keep It Between the Lines, All Around You, Call to Arms
– DJ Mango