By Kory Thibeault //
Country music can be quite polarizing. At least that is an honest opinion coming from someone who grew up surrounded by the genre. While the majority of my high school was throwing on their cowboy boots and getting inebriated on the lawns of New England’s largest venues, I was laying back and listening to the tasty licks of David Gilmour and Jimmy Page. I detested country music. Then again, I was just a kid.
Maturity brought a new perspective, a realization that only a fool would define themselves in such black and whites. And with that new perspective came a newfound appreciation for musicians like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and The Highwaymen.
Outlaw country was something I could get behind — musicians creating songs reflecting the fabric of our nation with honest lyrics painting the landscape of the American country or of one American’s life. Willie, Waylon, Johnny and Kris. Legends. Throw John Prine in there, and we can call it a day. And that’s how it felt once I discovered these musicians — it was over as soon as it started. Their catalogs were deep and forever giving. But where do I go from there? Who was carrying the torch that those men lit long ago?
For a long time, I thought the answer to that was simply no one. No one was, nor would they be putting out the kind of lyrically rich songs that defined the careers for so many of those aforementioned country heroes. But last year I was introduced to Sturgill Simpson’s second album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, with the title ironically spitting in the face of my beliefs that country would die with The Highwaymen.
This man’s music is outlaw country to the tee. Powerful vocals, rich lyrics and musically tight. The live performance, in fact, is even more powerful than the album. The excitement was palpable as Simpson and his band walked out onto The Fillmore’s stage last Saturday. The audience was adorned with smiles and tucked in flannels, cowboy boots and Stetsons. I have never seen The Fillmore in such a way. Yet, after a few minutes, it became apparent that this crowd traveled for miles to come see Simpson — and that, I must say, is something truly amazing.
Simpson has stage presence, that is without a doubt. The conviction of his voice bolsters his words as he describes a life of highs and lows, trials and tribulations. This was evident on renditions of songs like “Turtles All the Way Down”. If there is a song to capture your attention and convince you of Simpson’s talents as a songwriter, this is one of them. Just like that of his predecessors, he writes music that goes against the grain of popular country music. It may be defined as “outlaw country,” but I personally feel it is music that resonates with a wider audience than that of its counterparts.
The entire performance was engaging and loose — loose in the sense that the band was willing to let each song take its course, never reeling it in too early or letting it get out of control. There is an apparent respect Simpson holds for his band, and that is always great to see. Trust in your band, after all, is the key to taking your music to its greatest peak.
In terms of Simpson’s music and live performances, I am an amateur fan. Certainly more exposure to his concerts would allow me to take a more critical stance. However, for those who have not seen or heard his music, I would recommend listening to it. It is undoubtedly country music through and through, but like that of his predecessors, his lyrics transcend boundaries and have a whole lot to give if you give them a chance.
When I walked out of The Fillmore on Saturday, I saw a lone cowboy stepping into a cab. I could only imagine the length of road ahead of him as he made his way home. While I may not know where he came from, I know what he was walking away with. That man, as well as myself, caught a night of music with one of country’s most promising artists. And that’s a pretty cool feeling.