Sturgill Simpson heads off on a Sonic Journey on “Sound & Fury”
In the murky electro-fuzz stomper “Make Art Not Friends,” a standout from his gonzo-rock fall-released album “Sound & Fury,” Nashville outsider Sturgill Simpson sings, “This town’s getting crowded/Truth’s been shrouded/Think it’s time to change up the sound.”
Indeed, with each of his subsequent albums, the Grammy-winning artist seems intent on keeping his listeners guessing. He embraced the bluegrass of his native Kentucky on his 2013 debut, “High Top Mountain,” took a journey into trippy outlaw country on the breakout “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music,” and ruminated on fatherhood through gritty, horn fueled soul-rock on 2016’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.” Simpson’s latest album, though, is an extreme creative deviation from his expected shades of dusty twang: The kaleidoscopic sonic overload features squalls of distortion and colorful synths.
With “Sound & Fury,” Simpson stated he was trying to make “a sleazy, steamy rock n’ roll record,” so he set the vibe by taking his band to a motor inn outside of Detroit to record. He emerged with a set of 10 tracks that can at times be hazy, jarring, and fiercely enjoyable. The opening “Ronin” is an atmospheric, creeping instrumental with muscular shredding that sounds like Pink Floyd meets ZZ Top. “Best Clockmaker on Mars” loudly exaggerates howlin’ blues traditions. And “A Good Look” pulses forward in a hyper disco-funk frenzy.
The album soundtracked and was released in conjunction with a Netflix-released Japanese anime film of the same name that Simpson produced, so cinematic flourishes are abundant—especially in the gliding psychedelia of “All Said and Done.” The experimentation should add new dynamics to Simpson’s live show, which has grown into arenas this year.
On his latest tour, which, as this magazine was going to print, is scheduled to stop at the Pepsi Center on May 10, Simpson will be joined by fellow Kentucky troubadour Tyler Childers, whose latest album, “Country Squire,” was co-produced by Simpson and Johnny Cash’s former engineer David Ferguson. In the past two years, Childers has developed a fervent fan base of his own, evident by his sold out Red Rocks show last September.
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Guest appearances are plentiful on “Walking Proof,” the upcoming album from twangy roots-rocker Lily Hiatt. The follow-up to the lauded breakout effort “Trinity Lane” features appearances by Amanda Shires, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and Hiatt’s dad, ace Americana tunesmith John Hiatt. The record, which was released on March 27 and produced by former Cage the Elephant member Lincoln Parish, is full of personal introspection, with Hiatt using gritty country-rock to make sense of her struggles with sobriety and her mother’s suicide. The positive message on standouts like the distorted lead single “Brightest Star” show that Hiatt is coming out on the right side of strife. Her tour in support of “Walking Proof” had been planned for the Globe Hall in Denver on April 30, the Armory in Fort Collins on May 1, and the Lulu’s Downstairs in Manitou Springs on May 2.
Billy Strings continues his mad tear though the worlds of jam and progressive bluegrass. The frenetic flat-picking guitar wiz has been selling tickets at an impressively rapid clip (a three-night stand at the Boulder Theatre, originally scheduled for April and now set for late June, sold out instantly), as crowds flock to his wild live shows that boost front-porch tradition with psychedelic-rock expansion. Backed by an impressive band of pickers, Strings’ axe prowess is a sight to behold, as his mesmerizing fingers scamper up and down the fret board. He’s also a damn fine songwriter, as showcased on last fall’s “Home,” a sturdy studio effort that tackles topics ranging from family conflict (“Away from the Mire”) to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan (“Taking Water”). He’s on the bill at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which, as this magazine goes to press, is still set to take place June 18-21.
G. Love is taking the guest-heavy route for his new album “The Juice,” which was released on January 17. Produced by Grammy-winning blues ace Keb’ Mo’, the record still finds Love—real name Garrett Dutton—blending free-flowing hip-hop lyricism with foundational American roots music styles, but on his latest, the Philadelphia native gets instrumental assists from some well-established guitar heroes, including Robert Randolph, Roosevelt Collier, and Marcus King. Love hit Aspen and Telluride last month with his longtime supporting band, the Special Sauce. They are currently scheduled to open for the Avett Brothers at Red Rocks on July 10.