There’s an undeniable sincerity and feel of experience that comes with a southern accent in music. Lyrics that could sound corny, or overly written, or just plane awkward, can often come off as believable, heartfelt and totally natural when there’s some twang to them. And twang is what you get with Sturgill Simpson. But as High Top Mountain proves, there’s a whole lot more to his music than twang.
From the first plucked guitar notes and drawled lyrics, Sturgill Simpson and Life Ain’t Fare and the World is Mean make sure you know exactly what you’re in for. This is some old school country, in the outlaw vein of Waylon Jennings. “You can always find me in smoking bars, standing on a dim lit stage”, doesn’t just sound like a matter of fact, it sounds like a mission statement.
With a tempo ramped up to punk-rock like speeds, Railroad of Sin combines that energy with the same down home country sound of the opening track, and it’s a mix that works perfectly. But I’ll be buggered if Simpson doesn’t make something just as awesome when he tones things down with the tender and tragic Water in the Well. A haunting pedal steel guitar ties the sparse piano and drums together, until the guitars and bass join in to round it all out.
High Top Mountain is the perfect example of someone working completely within some pretty tight and old genre rules, but finding ways to expand them and make something new anyway. One minute I’m focusing on the amazing musicianship and catchy melodies with a song like Sitting Here Without You. The next, it’s Simpson’s lyrics and stories taking all of my attention with a song like The Storm.
There are only a few people who could pull of a line like, “Call me King Turd up here in Shit Mountain. If you want it, you can have the crown“, but it turns out, when you have the right good ol’ boy, shit kickin’ southern delivery, it sounds just right. You Can Have the Crown is full of lines like that, and Simpson owns them every single time.
This really is one of those albums that you’ll love or hate within the first half of the first song. Luckily, for me, I loved High Top Mountain and everything Sturgill Simpson does in it from the get go. It’s vintage country with a modern point of view, and the old and new have never fit so well together.