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Sturgill Simpson

High Top Mountain – 2013 (High Top Mountain/Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Sturgill Simpson

There's not a whole lot of traditional troubadours around these days. Old school may still be appreciated, but when it comes to country crossovers and reaching the masses, it's roots rock, alt.-country and Americana that hold the upper hand. Which makes it surprising in a way that newcomer Sturgill Simpson should sound like such a, well, old-timer. Hell, even his name resembles the kind of handle aptly suited to a country crooner.

It's little wonder then that his debut disc, "High Top Mountain," comes across like a throwback, one that could have easily been offered from the likes of Waylon, Willie, Merle, Kris or any other members of the Nashville elite some 30 years removed. An equal mix of shimmering steel guitar, Bakersfield twang, double time shuffles, battered ballads and gruff insurgence, it's the mark of a man who's spent one too many lonely nights spilling tears in his beer before grabbing his guitar and playing to indifferent audiences at yet another grimy neighborhood dive. And when he growls, "I'm tired of people trying to take what's mine/I'm tired of them all playing dress up and singing the same old country songs," on the track Some Days, that steadfast resolve is instantly apparent.

Okay, so Sturgill Simpson isn't about to break any barriers or stretch the parameters of Nashville's city limits significantly further than his forebears. Yet he's established a niche that's far too rugged and resilient to allow him to be tagged as a mere purveyor of nostalgia. This is the stuff of substance, coming from a guy who can look back at the past while tossing a middle finger in the rear view mirror. Simpson seems determined to pursue his own path to glory, but he's also not ashamed of using a few guideposts along the way.