Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
High Top Mountain Records

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” sings Sturgill Simpson, “but a word ain’t worth a dime.” But what’s a song worth? In the case of “Voices” — and every other song on his Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — the answer is every bit of the heaps of praise that the Kentucky native has garnered since the album’s release in May. A modern-day Waylon Jennings, the next great outlaw country singer, a true breath of fresh air … it ain’t really hyperbole if it’s true, and Simpson’s sophomore masterpiece backs it all up in spades. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music really does harken back the outlaw sound of Waylon, Willie, Billy Joe and others. Traditional country is the bedrock here from start to finish. But the way he colors his songs with striking psychedelic flourishes both sonically and lyrically prove Simpson is by no means just an imitator of his heroes; true to the promise of the album’s name, he isn’t afraid to boldly move the music forward. But the contrast between the way he blends the past and present into something new and the way the hip-hopping bro-country brigade ruling the airwaves attempts the same is profound. His lyrics and themes set him apart from that crowd as well. The trucks that show up in Simpson’s songs (“Long White Line”) are utilitarian 18-wheelers, as opposed to souped-up status symbols. Women are revered as inspirations of true love or genuine heartbreak rather than praised for their body parts or party game. When he sings about drugs or alcohol, he’s not bringing them to a tailgate or fraternity bash; he’s using them to soak up and hide the struggles of every day life and the weariness of living on the road (“Life of Sin.”) And when he calls on the Big Guy Upstairs, he’s not pandering to the market-tested right-wing of the mainstream-country-buying public, but rather sincerely aiming for spiritual understanding and forgiveness. Regardless of whether or not he wins the Americana Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year award he’s nominated for in September, he’s already made one of the best records of 2014 — and seems to have set himself up for a long career making gritty, emotional country songs for years to come. — ADAM DAWSON