When Sturgill Simpson’s surprise nomination for the Grammys coveted Album Of The Year category was announced, some people were scrambling to catch up on the country singer. SNL was one of them, quickly booking the country singer, whose album came out back in April of 2016, to appear on the show before the awards in mid-February.
Tonight he appeared on the show for the first time, and performed two songs off his Grammy-nominated album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth, one of the best albums of last year. He kicked things off right with a soulful, brass-heavy rendition of my personal favorite track off that record, “Keep It Between The Lines.” Later, he howled through a guitar-smashing performance of “Call To Arms,” a song that levels scathing criticism at the American military industrial complex.
Sailor’s Guide is Simpson’s third full-length release, and his first for Atlantic, it follows up the incredible success of his sophomore album Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, which put Simpson on the map in a huge way. Within the country genre, traditionalists often split with the more pop-leaning radio country sound, and long for sounds of the past. Simpson provided that with his second record, but markedly broke from that vibe, too, with Sailor’s Guide. His ability to continue morphing and determining his own sound is part of what makes Simpson stand out in what can be an extremely homogenous genre.
Simpson joins a cohort of other alternative country singers like Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell who have gained traction within the mainstream/independent audience, an arena that country music is traditionally excluded from. However, that doesn’t mean those three share much in common when it comes to how they sound — they’re all discrete, separate artists who should be listened to and examine in their own right. Unfortunately, when it comes to maligned genres like country, any breakout stars who aren’t necessarily of a piece with the genre’s main pipeline tend to get grouped together.
SNL highlighting Sturgill gives him the chance to set himself apart further, which can only be a good thing. Watch above and also check out his second performance of “Call To Arms.”