Sturgill Simpson Announces Departure of Guitarist Laur Joamets

On Sturgill Simpson’s rise to the top there’s been a familiar face with him. But as Simpson has announced on his Facebook page, it’s time for a “new chapter.” Lead guitarist Laur Joamets is leaving the group, as well as the trio of New Orleans horn players that have been touring with Simpson in support of his third album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Joamets, nicknamed “Little Joe” is leaving to simply pursue new opportunities as Simpson explains:

It’s certainly a bitter-sweet moment for longtime fans of Simpson, but certainly understandable. As someone who has seen Joamets play in-person twice, I can tell you all of the praise heaped on him is more than well deserved. Simply put he’s one of the best guitarists today and certainly was instrumental in helping Simpson make some of the finest music released in the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Joamets ends up with some kick ass rock group or something because he could play with just about anyone and I’m glad I got to see him before he departed the band. The Estonian guitarist is also in the process of becoming a permanent American citizen as Simpson explains, which is great to hear.

Simpson simultaneously takes over as lead guitarist, as he admits to missing playing electric guitar. The other big tidbit here of course is Simpson announcing “the beginning of a new chapter,” no doubt already turning his wheels about his fourth studio album. And with the horn trio leaving the touring band it seems like the next album won’t have as many horns if any at all. But as Simpson fans know all too well it’s impossible to predict what Sturgill has in-store for his music next.

Video: Sturgill Simpson Performs “All Around You” at the 59th Grammy Awards

sturgill-grammys

Sturgill Simpson had himself a pretty successful night at the 59th Grammy Awards. I know many are undoubtedly disappointed he didn’t pull off the ultimate upset and win Album of the Year for A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, but this shouldn’t overshadow the rest of what he accomplished (besides Beyoncé fans have more of a right to be angry about how much the academy screwed over Lemonade). Simpson first won Best Country Album on the pre-telecast, beating out the likes of Loretta Lynn, Brandy Clark, Maren Morris and Keith Urban. This comes after losing Best Americana Album a couple of years ago and marks his first ever Grammys win. It’s also yet another feather in his cap to hold over the folks on Music Row who don’t care for him. As he said in his acceptance speech, the revolution won’t be televised. Simpson also talked about working out in Utah on the railroad six years ago and says he owes it all to his family for being where he’s at today.

Later in the night on the main telecast, Simpson was introduced by the legendary Dwight Yoakam before he performed “All Around You,” backed by the fantastic Dap Kings. It was more subdued performance than the one he made on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago, but classy and great nonetheless. I wouldn’t call it the best performance of the night (that would be a tossup between the Anderson .Paak/A Tribe Called Quest collaboration and the Bruno Mars/The Times tribute to Prince), but I would put it top seven for sure. Without a doubt I’m sure he reached more new fans with all of the exposure and last I checked “All Around You” was in the top 150 on the Top Songs chart on iTunes. You can watch his performance on the show yourself below:

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.

Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year Nominees

Throughout 2016 Country Perspective had the privilege to review a lot of fine music. The world of country, Americana and folk certainly produced it’s fair share of great music throughout the year, reviving old sounds and sparking new ones every step of the way. There was certainly a fair share of innovation and creativity on display from a variety of artists. And now we get to look back the very best that was released. We first take a look at the very best albums of 2016, which will be nominated for Country Perspective’s top award, Album of the Year.

When deciding what album will win the 2016 Country Perspective Album of the Year Award, Country Perspective will take into consideration some key aspects: songwriting, instrumentation, production, accolades, impact on genre, consistent quality in the album and how memorable they are. I will ultimately decide which album will win Country Perspective’s top award. But I’m not the only one deciding. Country Perspective encourages feedback from you the readers! Your comments and suggestions will most certainly be considered when determine who wins not only this award, but all the year-end awards here at Country Perspective.

One more thing: In order for an album to be eligible for Album of the Year, it must have received a perfect 10/10 rating in its review. No other albums are considered. Only the best of the best get a shot. This year I did a much better job I feel in grading, especially for the 10/10 albums and only gave a couple of grades that I ultimately found to be too high. After much consideration I found four albums were ultimately worthy of their 10/10 grades and fit to be the nominations for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year. So without further ado, here are the nominees:

Dave-Cobb-Southern-Family

Various Artists/Dave Cobb – Southern Family

Coming into 2016 this was an album everybody in the independent/traditional community were licking their chops in anticipation to hear. How could you not be excited for a project headed by super producer Dave Cobb, which everything he touches seems to turn into gold? To top it off an all-star cast of artists from both the mainstream country and Americana realms would be recording the music. Well the hype was certainly met, as this turned out to be exactly what many anticipated it to be and that’s one of the year’s best albums. While this didn’t make the impact I was hoping it would make, everyone who has heard it in both critics and fans circles seem to be in near unanimous conclusion that it’s brilliant. It’s hard to pick highlights on this album because you could pretty much say this about every song. Cobb got 100% out of each artist on the project.

After listening to Southern Family, you come away with a better understand and feeling of southern culture and lifestyle. It’s very easy to point out the problems that existed in southern culture in the past and the stigma this caused for the south is something that will remain with the culture for years to come. But it’s important to remember the redeeming qualities of the southern culture: family, friends, love, spirituality, home. All of these things southerners should rightly be proud of and point to as their defining qualities that make them great. This album celebrates southern pride with dignity and genuineness that should make any southerner smile. Cobb bringing together all of these artists who clearly understand southern culture, from both mainstream and independent realms, is not only a unifying moment for southern people, but country music in general. That’s something we can all appreciate.

BJ Barham Rockingham

BJ Barham – Rockingham 

Small towns are a pretty common theme in country music. If you turn on country radio you’re bound to hear some upbeat song that glorifies small town living and makes rural living out to be the greatest thing in the world. But the truth is there are a lot of harsh realities about small town living you won’t hear about in those songs. Luckily for us there are artists like BJ Barham who come along and give us the sad truth behind small towns all across America. Barham has spent the majority of his career as the frontman of the popular independent country group American Aquarium. But this year he decided to step out alone and release his first solo album, a project titled Rockingham that he wrote after the terrorist attacks in Paris. The result is one of the best albums I’ve heard all year.

BJ Barham’s Rockingham will flat-out knock you on your ass. It’s depressing as hell and it’s full of raw emotion. Don’t take this as bad as it’s quite the opposite. It’s a beautifully dark album that paints a poignant tale of the failed American dream, lost hope, the hells of small town living and the trials and tribulations of everyday life. The songwriting is absolutely flawless and couldn’t be any deeper if it tried. While I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the instrumentation on this album because the songwriting is so excellent, it also shines bright and does a good job of letting the lyrics do the heavy lifting. At eight songs long, this album is somehow the perfect length. It doesn’t let up and hits you in the gut every step of the way. I don’t think there will be another album released this year as morbid as Rockingham. But I don’t know if there’s an album better than it this year too.

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth

Sturgill Simpson capture our inaugural Album of the Year award in 2014 with his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and now he’s back again going for his second win. Metamodern launched Simpson’s career into a whole new stratosphere, as he signed a major label deal with Atlantic Records and has quickly become a household name in country and popular critics’ circles. So in 2016 he was faced with the unenviable task of following up a near-universally praised album, while also releasing his first album under a major label. Of course in his own unique way, he delivered again.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth has received just as much praise from critics as his sophomore album, despite some grumblings from fans hoping he would have been more traditional with his music. The album debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 chart and went on to be #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, Billboard Top Rock Albums chart and the Billboard Folk chart. He’s also continuing to sell out larger venues across the world and appears to not be slowing down in the slightest in terms of his popularity. Needless to say Simpson wins in terms of impact of the nominees, but this is only one facet of the award.

A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Chris King Animal

Chris King – Animal 

Chris King came onto a lot of people’s radars in 2013 with the release of his album 1983. It was definitely a country leaning album. But his follow-up takes a different. King went Americana with his new album Animal and the creative shift pays off in spades to deliver an enthralling album on heartbreak and life. You could call it a concept album, but then again aren’t all good albums concept albums? There’s still a country influence in the album, but there’s also rock, pop and other flourishes. King and Animal are undoubtedly the underdog of these four nominees, as the other nominees are an all-star cast of names, one of the biggest artists in country music and a popular independent artist with a fairly large following. But King absolutely belongs alongside them, as he proves with Animal he’s a name you should be familiarizing yourself with if you haven’t yet.

Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like. Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.

That’s your nominees for Country Perspective’s 2016 Album of the Year award. Be sure to voice who you believe should win in the comments below. 

Album Review – Sturgill Simpson’s ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’

Sturgill Simpson A Sailor's Guide To Earth

“Some people might love it, some might not. I feel the same way about the new one as I felt about the last one before it came out. I’m nervous, but I made the record I wanted to make and the record I needed to make, I guess. I’m not even sure it’s a country record, to be honest with you.”

That’s what Sturgill Simpson had to say in his interview alongside Merle Haggard with Garden & Gun a few weeks back. It was quite the thought-provoking quote when I read it and it still is after hearing the album. To say A Sailor’s Guide To Earth was highly anticipated is an understatement. In 2014 Sturgill Simpson absolutely skyrocketed in popularity after the release of what I believe will be looked back upon as a classic album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Simpson went from critical country darling to indie sensation to major label artist with an ever-growing following in what felt like a blink of an eye. Many instantly labeled him savior and some still do. When we rewarded him Male Artist of the Year in 2014, I remember pointing out that he isn’t a savior, but rather a trailblazer:

Sturgill Simpson says he doesn’t want to be anointed the savior of country music and I don’t blame him. Who wants that pressure? He isn’t the savior of country music either. You know what I would call him? A trailblazer. Simpson is living proof that if you are talented and dedicated enough to do what you truly want in life, people will pay attention. He’s an inspiration to aspiring young country artists everywhere. Not only has he inspired potential artists, but the fans. It’s amazing the amount of fans he has accumulated over 2014, many of them new. Simpson has reinvigorated disenfranchised country fans to believe in the genre again. It has made a lot of people realize they can’t rely on radio for their country music.

Simpson alone won’t save country music. But he has clearly planted the seeds to a potential revolution in the genre. He could be one of the pieces to bringing quality back to country music.

Look at all of the great new and existing artists that have risen since Sturgill’s breakout. Jason Isbell reached #1 on the country albums chart, Chris Stapleton has had his own meteoric rise and Margo Price just played Saturday Night Live. Genuine country music is alive and thriving. So that brings us to Simpson’s third album and first under major label Atlantic Records, A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. Did it meet its lofty expectations? Yes. But in ways I never imagined. That’s probably how Sturgill preferred it too.

The sound of seagulls and a bell ring in “Welcome To Earth.” It dramatically segues into some smooth piano play before Sturgill begins to sing. “Hello my son, welcome to earth” is the first line Simpson sings, appropriate considering this album is for his young son. Simpson sings about the great love he has for his son and how much his life has now changed as a result of him being born. About halfway through the song though it abruptly changes to blue-eyed, Memphis soul with lots of horn instrumentation as Simpson sings about the guilt he feels when he’s away from his son on the road. The entire song brilliantly explores all of the conflicting feelings Sturgill feels about the impact his son has made on him in such a short time. The hauntingly dark, yet beautiful “Breakers Road” follows. In this song Simpson explores the mental demons and inner problems that can bring you down. It’s pretty depressing, but poignantly honest. As Simpson sings at one point, “heartaches can kill.” There’s a lot of string production on this song along with the pedal steel guitar. The amount of string instrumentation can be jarring at first, but sounds quite natural after multiple listens.

“Keep It Between The Lines” returns to that soulful, bluesy sound on the second half of “Welcome To Earth.” Out of all the songs on this album, this one is probably the most unlike songs on his previous albums. There are trumpets, horns and an organ prominent throughout it, making it one of the loudest songs too. Yet it fits Simpson like a glove and may be some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard from him. The song itself is Simpson giving his son life lessons and tips. “Do as I say, don’t do as I’ve done/It don’t have to be like father like son” Simpson sings at one point, hoping his son doesn’t repeat the same mistakes he made. This is followed by one of the best moments on the album, as Simpson’s fantastic lead guitarist Laur Joamets rips off an impressive, funky guitar solo. Joamets is an amazing talent and this is just another example of it. Simpson recalls his days of serving in the Navy on “Sea Stories.” If you’re looking songs similar to previous two albums, this song is the closest to them. Before this Simpson had never really sung about his days in the Navy, which makes this song more fascinating. In the song he refers to all of the stories of his time in the Navy and how he went from a pollywog (sailor who hasn’t crossed the equator) to shellback (sailor who has crossed the equator before). The songwriting is classic Simpson and it’s one of the most memorable on the album.

The song that has probably attracted the most attention on the album is “In Bloom.” This is of course a cover of the popular Nirvana song. Simpson is a big fan of Nirvana and has said this is his tribute to the late Kurt Cobain. Now is the part where I regrettably admit that I had never heard this song before Simpson covered it. I’m sorry, Nirvana fans! But after hearing Simpson’s version and Nirvana’s version, I now want to explore their music. Anyway back to Simpson’s version: it can take on a much different meaning than the original. Nirvana’s “In Bloom” is commentary on the mainstream fans showing up at their concerts and buying their music after becoming famous. This is despite them not really understanding the message behind Nirvana’s music and really just mindlessly singing along because it sounds catchy and it’s popular.

Simpson adds onto the final line of the chorus, “Don’t know what it means to love someone.” This can give the song a whole different meaning. At first I took the song being about someone who is young, perhaps as young as a teenager, who doesn’t understand what love is yet and the powerful impact it can have on your life. Perhaps this is Sturgill recalling where he was before his wife and son came into his life. The other message I could gather from it was it slightly modifies from Nirvana’s meaning. I could see it being about the people who thought his songs on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music that mention drugs are about that and not love, the true theme of the songs. However you want to interpret this song, I think it’s absolutely astounding and yet another cover Simpson knocks out of the park.

The album’s lead single “Brace For Impact” follows this. This was the first song we all got to hear from the album and listening to it in the context of the whole album really makes it sound better. Listening to it alone, it could come off as weird and out of place. You could really say this about any song on the album. This is why Sturgill requested NPR’s First Listen to not allow individual listening of each song, forcing you to listen to the whole album. This song builds into the overall theme of Simpson teaching his son lessons and bestowing knowledge upon him and really the listeners too. The teaching continues in “All Around You,” as Simpson gets spiritual. He extensively explored spirituality in his last album, which at times got dark and admittedly a little weird. On “All Around You” though, it’s much more upbeat and happy as the song goes. Simpson tells his son that the world may be terrible at times and you may get lost along the way, but reminds his son that their bond and love will always exist. He also tells him that God is inside him, all around him and up above. All of these things will be there to show him the way in life. Again Simpson’s songwriting and production choices are just fantastic and makes you want to listen to the music over and over.

Simpson explores love and heartache on “Oh Sarah.” For longtime fans of Simpson they’ll instantly recognize this song, as his old band Sunday Valley performed this song extensively. The song is about the tension that can crop up in a marriage when your job requires you to be out on the road all the time. The wife is distressed about it, but the husband reassures her even though his life belongs to the road, his heart belongs to her and her only. You know just another love song that Simpson seemingly rattles off in his sleep that leaves you impressed. As Simpson did on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, he closes out A Sailor’s Guide To Earth with a loud bang with “Call To Arms.” The instrumentation and lyrics are equally fierce, as Simpson makes some scathing commentary on war. This is not against the troops as Simpson is very much for them, but rather against the procedures and reasoning behind the war, along with the treatment of soldiers. For example he points out how he doesn’t want his son to be a puppet, which is insinuating how soldiers are used by the military. It falls very much in the same vein of songs like Corb Lund’s “Sadr City” and Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues.” The song closes out with one of Simpson’s most well written lines I’ve heard from him: “Bullshit on the TV, bullshit on the radio, Hollywood telling me how to be me, bullshit’s got to go.”

There’s nothing else to say except Sturgill Simpson did it again. A Sailor’s Guide To Earth is another masterpiece from Simpson. If you’re looking for another copy of High Top Mountain or Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, don’t bother listening. If you’re a fan of music and you trust Simpson, strap in and listen to this album because you won’t be disappointed. You will however be surprised, as Simpson once again takes a different approach in the sound department. There are multiple outright country songs and every song has country elements in them. But there’s also Memphis soul and the Muscle Shoals sound that deeply influence the album. Not to mention there’s lots of string production and horns in many songs. Is it a country record? Well I can tell you Sturgill Simpson wrote, produced and performed an album of phenomenal music. I can say this is Simpson’s most cohesive and tight-knit album yet. Perhaps the best answer to this comes from the late great Merle Haggard: “Good. If it’s what they’re calling country, you don’t want to go near that shit.” And Simpson did exactly that. Simpson gave us something we never expected and yet exactly what we wanted and that’s art straight from the heart.

Grade: 10/10