Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year – Sturgill Simpson’s ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’

2016 was a great, yet weird year for country and Americana albums. There was no doubt a lot of quality music released. The majority just wasn’t what we were expecting. There was also much debate over country music and defining it. But that’s what made many releases so surprising. Normally traditional acts got away from their usual sound, yet still delivered great albums. To me country music this year was about artists basically deciding the debate over country music for us. It’s no longer really about genre lines. It’s about real music that resonates with the human spirit and everyday life. When an artist goes into the studio to create art, they don’t go in with the mindset of making it fit into a box. They don’t let boxes and parameters determine their art. Their art determines the box it fits in. It simply defines itself. To me one album defined this lesson more than any other this year. That album is Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year.

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

I’ll be honest: most of the year I didn’t think I would give Simpson album of the year. I thought for sure another artist would come along and top him. In fact I was wishing and hoping that one artist would force me to give them album of the year. It never happened. I guess I might have fallen into the trap many fell into with this album too and compared it to his previous album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. That album after all was flawless from front to back. It won our 2014 Album of the Year. It will probably be viewed as a classic years from now. Yes, it’s true that A Sailor’s Guide to Earth isn’t as good as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. But it’s not fair to judge this album in this way because this a masterpiece of itself if you at what it symbolically represents.

Before I get to that though let’s point out a crazy fact: Sturgill Simpson decided to release an album about the birth of his child as his major label debut record. An artist who just captured the world by surprise with a future classic album decided to follow it up with an album on fatherhood, some would say is quite corny on paper. No other artist would do something so crazy because they don’t want to risk their newfound position. But Sturgill Simpson is no other artist. He put all of the new fame and expectations aside and made the exact record he wanted to make. He traded the groovy psychedelic stylings for a horns section. He made a record that some wouldn’t even call country. Simpson could have easily put out another Metamodern or even High Top Mountain and given right into expectations. This would have been simple enough, but Simpson has proven every step of the way that he doesn’t take the simple way. Instead he followed his heart. The guts and confidence to do this cannot be understated. This shouldn’t have worked and yet it very well did. Not to mention, Simpson also wrote all eight original songs himself and produced the entire album himself. He did all of his on his major label debut.

Symbolically, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth represents a giant screw you to both sides of the country aisle and critics like myself. It’s an utter disregard for the expectations set by both sides and the boxes each expect artists to hop into. Simpson essentially says screw your box, I have my own. He wasn’t the only artist to basically adopt this attitude with their music. I don’t think anyone out there is more sick and tired of the genre arguments than artists. The fans and some critics seem to be the only ones who care. As I said before, I liken genre labels to aisles at the grocery store. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you label something as long as you get what you desire. Why fuss over labeling? Most music fans desire great music and if they get that they’re not going to suddenly rebuke it if the music isn’t labeled properly. They’re just happy to get what they want. Purists can cry about the lack of steel guitar and outlaw themes. Pop country fans and label executives can complain it isn’t catchy or happy enough. Meanwhile Sturgill Simpson is heading to the Grammys competing for Album of the Year and thousands of people are singing the praises of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. (Funny enough I had decided on this as album of the year before the Grammys even announced his nomination and even had a majority of it outlined)

There’s an old saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same. While Simpson largely seem to go in a different direction with this album, he really didn’t when you get down to the songs themselves. Simpson has always written about life and the real things we can experience, specifically going off his own experiences. On High Top Mountain, the general theme is trying to make and find your way in life. Simpson sings of trying to make it in music and paying tribute to his family and wife who are behind them. On Metamodern, the general theme is finding meaning in life’s experiences and finding true love. Simpson sings of his old drug using days and the trials and tribulations of those experiences leading him to realize he just needed the love of his wife. Then you get to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, where it’s about a father welcoming a child into the world and trying to show the child the lessons they need to survive the crazy world we live in. Simpson tries to absorb the magnitude of welcoming his first-born into the world and reflecting on his own upbringing to bestow life lessons upon the child.

Simpson always has and always will continue to sing what he knows and experiences. It’s real life put into songs. That’s what every music fan wants out of their music. It’s a powerful thing when an artist can take their own life and be able to present it in a way that others can deeply connect with their own thoughts and experiences. It’s this shared human bond that tells us when the music we’re listening to is special. We don’t remember something for the genre it’s labeled. We remember something for being real and genuine. That’s exactly what Simpson delivers with A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and why it’s Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year.

7 thoughts on “Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year – Sturgill Simpson’s ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’

  1. jmartin103 December 13, 2016 / 11:29 am

    Couldn’t have picked a better choice. Simpson is truly one of the most amazing artists trying to keep quality music alive, and this whole album is just amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OlaR December 13, 2016 / 12:27 pm

    Surprise! Surprise! Sturgill Simpson…

    My COUNTRY Album Of The Year: Kelsey Waldon – I’ve Got A Way
    A real country album. With steel guitar. Looks like i’m a crying purist.

    What’s wrong with Nashville country music?!
    Hot Country Songs Songwriters:
    #1 – Ashley Gorley
    #2 – Ross Copperman
    #3 – Shane McAnally
    #4 – busbee
    #7 – Lori McKenna

    Hot Country Songs Producers:
    #1 – Joey Moi
    #2 – Dan Huff
    #3 – Scott Hendricks
    #4 – Ross Copperman
    (According to Billboard Country Update)

    Billboard Country Update (12/12)
    Country Airplay:
    #1 – Old Dominion – “Song For Another Time”
    #2 – Brett Eldredge – “Wanna Be That Song”
    #3 – FGL feat. Tim McGraw – “May We All”
    Top 10 – New: #9 – Granger Smith / #10 – Thomas Rhett
    Top 30 – New: #28 – Luke Bryan / #30 – Dierks Bentley
    Hot Shot Debut: #52 – Brett Young – “In Case You Didn’t Know”
    New: #60 – Drake White – “Makin’ Me Look Good Again”
    Re-Entry: #57 – Tucker Beathard – “Momma & Jesus”

    Top Country Albums:
    #1 – Kane Brown (New)
    #2 – Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood
    #3 – Miranda Lambert

    Americana/Folk Albums:
    #1 – Chris Stapleton

    Texas Regional Radio Report:
    #1 – Zane Williams – “Bringin’ Country Back”


  3. Brett December 13, 2016 / 7:24 pm

    I personally picked Margo’s Midwest Farmers Daughter, but Sturgill was right behind her all year. I think what set these two albums apart for me was just that…they are superb albums as a whole. They took things back to a time when artists truly cared about the ENTIRE body of work, not just a single or two. They had recurring themes of life that we can all relate, and i honestly feel that they enjoyed themselves and were proud of what they accomplished. I certainly cant argue with Sailors Guide here, records like this just dont come along every year.
    What a great year in general, Cody Jinks, Kelsey Waldon, it goes on and on. I think things are looking up folks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Raymond December 13, 2016 / 8:48 pm

    For me my top album is one you guys didn’t cover.

    Jennifer Nettles latest solo album Playing with Fire. I know it is a rather unconventional pick, but I love Jennifer Nettles voice and if there is one thing she often does is poor her heart and soul into songs. It’s why songs like “Unlove You” and “Way Back Home” are classic for this year. Also upbeat songs like “Hey Heartbreak” and “Drunk In Heels” are clever and the production never gets in the way of her vocals

    Also Josh when you get the chance watch her live performance of “Unlove You” at the Grand Ole Opry it is so amazing.

    Playing With Fire is one of the most underrated albums of the year and it is a shame too because I have always thought of Jennifer Nettles as one of the best vocalists in country music.


  5. Leon Blair December 13, 2016 / 11:46 pm

    Well, certainly a predictable choice, but that doesn’t make it wrong 🙂

    Admittedly, it’s not my #1, but in terms of the quality + the impact, I can’t fault anyone who has this at the top of their list. The idea for the album to be about Sturgill’s son was fleshed out beautifully, and while I won’t get into debates about its genre, I will defend it as a great album.

    It’s funny, when “Metamodern” was released we all questioned where Sturgill could go from here, and now I’m asking the same thing. The answer is even more exciting to find out now than it was in 2014. Kick ass at the Grammy’s Sturgill (or at least try).


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