As more time passes, the impact of this album continues to grow. Who would have thought a sophomore release from a relatively unknown independent artist from Kentucky in 2014 would change the country music landscape? The release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music would not only launch the career of Sturgill Simpson, but also launched the career of Chris Stapleton. It was one of the main inspirations behind his debut album Traveller and now Stapleton is one of the biggest artists in all of music. These two artists rise to the top helped many other artists rise to the top and what I dub fusion country music has taken on a life of its own. This blog wouldn’t be here without Sturgill Simpson, so it’s only appropriate that the very first induction into Fusion Country Classics & Essentials is Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.
The voice of Sturgill’s late grandfather introduces you into the album’s leading track “Turtles All The Way Down.” It’s the perfect song to lead off the album because it tells you right away you’re listening to a very different, but special country album. The psychedelic production tinges and drug-fueled lyrics are what hook you in and what many love to focus on. But it’s the message of enduring love that the song drives across that lasts with you. That’s the central theme of the album and what people who actually listen to it will take from the album. “Life of Sin” is a rambunctious song about Simpson’s past life of drugs and sin that drove his life. It wasn’t a great life, but it was his life and he owns it. Then you have “Living The Dream,” which has become a crowd favorite at live shows and one of Simpson’s best songs. The song revolves around balancing the pursuit of your dreams, but also needing to find work. A job doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning, but a dream sure does. The problem is life not wanting to work as you planned, as Sturgill likens it to “making a big old pot of coffee when you ain’t got no cream.”
“Voices” is about being driven crazy by all of the different voices you hear in your life. From a family member who knows best to the perfect life that gets sold to you on television by media and celebrities, everybody is trying to tell you how to run your life. It’s a never-ending bullshit loop. Sturgill takes a classic country approach on his cover of Buford Abner’s “Long White Line,” as it’s about hitting the road to clear your mind of the fresh heartbreak just dropped on your lap. The song’s common refrain, “tell ’em I’m somewhere looking for the end of that long white line,” implies more than just chasing the white lines of the highway, at least in the context of this album. I feel like a lot of people miss this possible double entendre, which adds even more to the song.
The album’s biggest curveball might be Simpson’s cover of When In Rome’s “The Promise,” a late 80s, new wave song that Sturgill turns into a heartfelt love ballad. Many thought this was a strange choice, but after you get to know Simpson you figure out this is par for the course for him. It’s such a perfect fit for this album though and will go down as one of the hidden gems of Simpson’s career. The album’s shortest track “A Little Light” sees Simpson walking towards the light of love and seeing the errors of his past life of sin and debauchery. This theme continues on “Just Let Go,” where Simpson lets all of the demons of drugs, society’s voices and even his own ego fade from his mind. He’s learned he can just it all go and embrace what he’s hammered on throughout the album and that is the love in his life.
This leads to reminiscing on one last trip through his days of drugs on “It Ain’t All Flowers.” It’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music at it’s most trippy, psychedelic and perhaps standout moment. The whole album builds to this climax of emotions and sounds, as Simpson howls his way through the song. It’s also Simpson’s most experimental and exploratory moment of his career, bringing sounds that you never hear in country songs. It should have been the indicator for listeners that Simpson would not be sticking to their script they had in mind for him. Some got that memo, while others didn’t. The true end of the album is the bonus track, “Panbowl.” It’s a reflecting, traditional song where Simpson wishes he could go back to the days of his youth when life wasn’t so complicated. At the same time it serves as a thank you to his family and the great moments they gave him, while going back to where this album begins with his grandfather introducing us to the record.
While it’s only been four years since the release of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, we can already point to this album as one of the most important country albums of the 2010’s. This album proved country music could evolve without sacrificing its soul. It also proved to artists that you should take risks and inspired them to pursue their sound. You don’t need a major label to make a cultural impact, which is a message that is continuing to spread throughout all genres of music. If the music is truly great enough, people will eventually find it. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the stellar production work of Dave Cobb throughout this album, as he too would rise to a greater level of prominence after the release of this album. He’s the most hotly demanded producer in Nashville today, as he racks up numerous awards for his impressive body of work. This album has accomplished so much and will probably prove to be even more influential with the passage of time. I could not think of a more slam dunk choice to be the first induction into Fusion Country Classics & Essentials.
Album’s Top Highlights: Turtles All The Way Down, It Ain’t All Flowers, Living The Dream, The Promise, Long White Line
Producer: Dave Cobb
Songwriters: Sturgill Simpson, Buford Abner, Clive Farrington, Michael Floreale, Andrew Mann