Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sturgill Simpson at the Bowery Ballroom

Born in the small town of Jackson, Kentucky, which is seated on a plateau in the Appalachian Mountains, Sturgill Simpson is the son of a coal miner' daughter. He played his first guitar when he was eight years old simply because playing an instrument was a local custom. About 10 years ago, he formed the bluegrass band Sunday Valley and recorded an album, but the band disbanded shortly thereafter. In 2010 Simpson and his wife moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and in 2013 he self-funded and self-released a solo debut album, High Top Mountain. His second and most recent album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, was released on May 13, 2014.

Simpson's popularity has steadily increased even in New York, where he has headlined the Rockwood Music Hall, Joe's Pub, and City WineryAt the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Simpson shined a fresh light on a vintage roots country sound. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by his road band – an outstanding guitarist in Estonia-born Laur Joamets, along with bassist Kevin Black and drummer Miles Miller – Simpson kept his songs fairly simple. He opened with "Sitting Here Without You" from his debut album, setting the tone for an authentic, un-glossed and electrified set of more than 20 twangy story-songs. There was merit in Simpson's vocal comparisons to Waylon Jennings, although Simpson's singing is more challenging to understand. Not locking himself into outlaw country, however, Simpson added hillbilly soul to both the heartfelt ballads and the rowdier yee-haa rockers. On the one hand he ably handled mountain bluegrass, like on his cover of the Stanley Brothers' "Medicine Springs," but sometimes he latched onto a rocking groove, to the point where midway through one rocking jam he mentioned T. Rex and the band gravitated into what sounded like "Bang a Gong (Get It On)." The true star of the performance, however, was what Joamets brought to all the songs; formerly a rock and blues guitarist, he was brilliant on the country slide guitar. The public will be hearing more about Simpson, but Joamets has an equally promising future.

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