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For Simpson, different isn't necessarily better

Blue Hills Pavilion, Boston, September 16, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Sturgill Simpson is doing things a lot differently on this end of touring since his left of center "A Sailor's Guide to Earth" dropped last year. With a stripped down tour, gone are one key band member and the three-piece New Orleans horns section.

The eventful year also saw Simpson displaying his musical abilities on Saturday Night Live appearance in January and a Grammy win for Best Country Album plus a nomination for Best Album.

The band changes left Simpson front and center pretty much as the focal point, and while he filled the bill more often than not before about 4,500 people, the show was not perfect either.

Simpson went onstage with three band mates offering a mix of traditional country, soulful and funky vibes and more of a rock edge. Simpson started his career in the country realm with his first two albums, but made a decided left turn into varied sonics on "A Sailor's Guide," with its theme of messages to his then unborn son of how to live life (he now has two kids).

Simpson and band were at their best when they rode the song to its climax, which happened a few distinct times during the 90-minute, no encore concert. That required a group effort with keyboardist /organist Bobby Emmett playing a prominent role. Drummer Miles Miller was a tour de force on a number of songs as well providing a lot of backbone.

Simpson stripped it down even further when he took it upon himself for a four-song stretch of his traditional country material, including a cover of the Stanley Brothers "Could You Love Me (One More Time)" and the very fine "Long White Line." It offered a change of pace and brought him back to his musical roots.

Not all went as well. One of the main problems was a lack of vocal clarity. With a muddy sound mix, it was often difficult to understand what Simpson was either singing or saying, apparently whether back in the crowd or way up front.

Simpson held his own on lead guitar, but he was no Laur Joamets, the most fabulous Estonian guitarist, who left the band earlier this year. He was a musical wonder in a show witnessed last year with a truckload of efficiently superb guitar lines, which added so much to the songs.

Simpson also is not the warmest of performers. He's far from a rah rah upbeat performer. That's okay, but last year, Jourant and the horns helped round out the sound, giving more even depth to the music, which was enough. The commitment to the material from Simpson remained intact, but that didn't fill the bill on this evening. Lots of real good songs and playing, but different didn't necessarily make Simpson better.