Tonight Sturgill Simpson made his ‘SNL’ debut, due in large part to a surprise Grammy nomination for Album Of The Year. His 2016 album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth came out back in April of last year, but when the Grammys nominated it for their most coveted award, heads began to turn. Earlier he kicked things off with a fiery and rambunctious performance of “Keep It Between The Lines,” and now he’s closed out his debut appearance with a rendition of “Call To Arms,” the final song off his new record, and a pointed critique of US military action and mindsets.
Given the album is a tribute to his son, and an instruction manual of sorts, this statement is both political and personal. It’s advice to his son, but also a scathing critique of the way American propaganda surrounding military action abroad currently works. The band absolutely howls through the performance, and Simpson ends it the only way a song this spirited could conclude — by smashing his guitar.
Sturgill and his band looks sharp in a crisp, all-black suit that further points to his traditionalist roots, though it’s important to note that he’s traditionalist in the way that Merle Haggard was — by rebelling against the establishment and going against the grain in Nashville. Earlier this year Simpson ranted about what he felt was mainstream country music’s appropriation of Haggard’s legacy, among a few other things. Of course, Haggard hated all things Nashville, so the award they immediately constructed following his death did feel a little off.
Simpson isn’t all intenese rebellion though, like I mentioned above, the entire album is dedicated to the country singer’s son, and he even went as far to say he felt the Grammy nod was owed to his son. “First of all, I wouldn’t have made this album if it hadn’t been for my son,” Simpson told The New York Times when they interviewed him the day of the Grammy nomination announcement. “Immediately I realized — I got out of bed and went into his room and gave him a hug. I feel like he did this, not me.”
Watch “Call To Arms” above and also check out his earlier performance of “Keep It Between The Lines.”