Sturgill Simpson Shines Bright in His Return Home
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Sturgill Simpson Shines Bright in His Return Home

Matthew Mahoneover 5 years

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  image Sturgill Simpson doesn't fool around.  The widely-popular alt-country star is as blue collar as his humble roots; he shows up, rocks out, and leaves.  What more could you want?  If you are expecting choreographed dance moves along with backup dancers, and an auto-tuned sound, he ain't your guy.  The Kentucky born 'n raised singer/songwriter returned to the bluegrass to play two back-to-back, sold out shows on May 16th and 17th, in front of an eager and diverse crowd at the historic Lexington Opera House.  As the lights dimmed a few minutes after the official start time, Simpson and his bandmates stealthfully walked onstage, briefly waved to the crowd and began playing their first song.  "We don't have a set list.  That tends to get in the way of creativity," Simpson explains.  He is most often identified as a country artist, but that's a bit shortsighted, he's more versatile than that.  Simpson is a musical chameleon, one that defies labels, blending genres like country along with:  gospel, R&B, rock and soul into his music and that was evident in his Lexington performances.  Despite his earlier proclamation, the set list more or less followed the artist's discography.  Beginning with the traditional outlaw-esque country sounds from his 2013 solo debut, High Top Mountain, Simpson and crew then deftly moved into the psychedelic sounds of his 2014 sophomore offering, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, before closing the show with multiple songs from his latest release, the R&B influenced album A Sailors Guide to Earth.  However the show was sprinkled with some surprising songs including the twangy yet soulful rendition of Otis Redding's deep cut, "You Don't Miss Your Water" and the classic Led Zeppelin foot stomper "When the Levee Breaks".  Simpson is surrounded by a collective of highly talented musicians, including fellow Kentuckian and drummer Miles Miller, along with a new bassist, Detroit Rock City's own Chuck Bartles, who replaced longtime bassist Kevin Black after his 2015 departure, keyboardist Jeff Crow, lead guitarist  Laur "Lil' Joe"Joamets, who hails from Estonia, to which Simpson joked "I had to go to Europe to find someone who could play real country", and finally a Louisiana based horn trio, who add that Memphis-Muscle Shoals sound so familiar on his latest release.  Sturgill's on-stage presence is like his personal life, he's a guarded individual, at times he appears aloof, and that showed during the performance.  In fact, the one thousand or so fans in the audience seemed unsure how to respond and connect with the artist at moments in the show.  Maybe it's Simpson, or even the intimate venue, regardless, even Simpson recognized it saying, "I know this is an opera house, but you don't have to be so formal."  Comedian Marc Maron recently spoke with Simpson on his WTF Podcast and got the singer to open up about life, his struggles with self-confidence, and the coming wave of what Simpson calls "authentic country" music.  It's worth a listen, but beware, it has some language that some may find offensive.  Overall, seeing Sturgill Simpson both nights was totally worth the wait and the price of admission.  He's a solid performer, many even go so far to hail him as the Savior of Country Music, only time will tell.  He's one of many great acts like Jason Isbell, The Avett Brothers and Chris Stapleton whose music crosses a wide spectrum of genres.  If you have the time and money, a Sturgill Simpson show is about as good as it gets.

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2021-12-08