Back in June, we caught news that Sturgill Simpson was exploring the fields of bluegrass as possible landscape for a new album. The quarantine and social media spurred his young love for this music onward so with a few calls and connections he’d made during his recurring trips to the historic venue, The Station Inn, Nashville’s renowned voice had gathered the brightest talents in the bluegrass industry. For a three day studio stint, he assembled a cast of characters that only Covid could make available in such a sort timespan. The list included fiddle giant Stuart Duncan, the fierce mando-gal Sierra Hull, and Scott Vestal laying the banjo backdrop. Also on deck was Mike Bub, who seems to be the go-to bottomline for country crooners turned grassers having also appeared on Steve Earl’s The Mountain back at the turn of the century. Tim O’Brien also blesses the album with his guitar alongside Mark Howard. All in all, let it be known that there are no sandlot players here, this is the big leagues.
Yet even with these star-studded session pickers in tow, Cuttin’ Grass – Vol. 1 is exactly what I expected. Now that’s a double-edged compliment so let me explain. Sturgill is a great talent. Had I been in the bar where he took to the mic for the first time, I would have gone home, convinced my wife to sell all of our possessions and went all in on Simpson’s Waylon-esque tone. He’s a mic drop. Sturgill’s vocals were destined for the big lights. However, I would suggest that it’s not his Kentucky pipes that made him the artist he is today. His Dave Cobb-produced Metamodern Sounds of Country Music came out swinging with a unique, original take on the genre forcing the listener to hear it in a new way and to stretch their expectations. I was hoping for that innovation to be present here on Simpson’s bluegrass debut as well. It’s not but there’s still hope. Notice that this is Volume 1 which means that a sequel is to be expected. Possibly, Cuttin’s producer David Ferguson figured that it’d be best to go a bit more straightforward with the inaugural venture to sneak past the gatekeepers (though I’m sure the presence of drums, faint as they are, will get some unapproving comments posted). So let me be clear. Cuttin’ Grass Vol 1. is an album that’s worthy of your time and playlists. Voice, killer. Band, mercy me. Songs are solid, though his recuts of his Metamodern hits like Turtles All the Way Down are still the standouts. But, if I’m being honest, the greatest thing about Volume One is that it gets me buzzing for Volume Two. Volume Two will most assuredly fly at a different altitude, give way to more exploration and push the envelope a bit more. Sturgill has cut the grass with One and Volume Two will allow him to do some landscaping. We need his artistry just as much as we need his voice. Welcome to the neighborhood Mr Sturgill. We can’t wait to hear you again shortly.
To learn more about Sturgill Simpson, visit sturgillsimpson.com