Glasgow’s premier Americana promoters, The Fallen Angels Club celebrate their tenth anniversary of bringing top class acts to the west of Scotland this year and they kicked off the celebrations with Sturgill Simpson, a star in the ascendant who’s riding high on the back of the UK release of his superb album High Top Mountain. Simpson, from Kentucky but now living in Nashville has been touted by all and sundry as “the next big thing” in country music here and in the States as High Top Mountain pumps a shot of adrenalin into the flat lifeless chest of Nashville music. Whether he makes it big remains to be seen but there’s no doubting that he can rip it up with the best of them and then add a George Jones like mournful ballad straight after.
Tonight it’s just him and his guitar and he’s drawn a sizeable crowd for a wintry Sunday night. Announcing that he’s going to play a bunch of songs he wrote and a bunch that he didn’t he proceeded to deliver several songs from High Top Mountain that, stripped of the country rock trappings, highlight his “hillbilly” leanings while his covers were for the most part a dip into classic country with selections from Lefty Frizzell, Carter Stanley, Willie Nelson, Charlie Moore and Bill Napier along with Steve Fromholz and Jimmy Martin. As Simpson said, he has hundreds of these songs in his head and currently he plucks them out at random. He may choose them at random but he proved to be well versed in their delivery with his voice capturing the slight nasal mountain style that goes hand in hand with Appalachian songs while his guitar playing is fluid, deftly picked and strummed with several of the songs featuring breaks that recalled bluegrass picking. Sad Songs and Waltzes Aren’t Selling This Year, I’d Have To be Crazy, I Never Go Round Mirrors, all plucked at the heartstrings the way they’re supposed to with Sturgill sounding as if he’s lived these songs all of his life.
Achieving an easy rapport with the audience Simpson explained the provenance of several of the covers and had us laughing as he described the “laundry list” conception of his collection of Nashville clichés that constitutes You Can have The Crown. He’d done his homework as well even venturing a joke about the local football rivalries but the highlights of the evening were the songs from High Top Mountain. You Can have The Crown was given its full title (King Turd of Shit Mountain) and the solo delivery allowed for the humour of the lyrics to stand out. However it was the songs that relate to those heartstrings and the sad tales that excelled with Water In A Well, Time After All and in particular the story of a mining community left high and dry in Old King Coal all getting fine deliveries. The Storm, a powerful brooding number on the album, was transformed into a reflective introspective piece while Life Ain’t Fair and The World Is Mean retained its jaundiced punch.
In the midst of this Simpson announced that he has a new album poised for release in a few months (High Top Mountain had a belated UK release) and offered us a peek with Living The Dream, a bittersweet reflection at the end of a career in music which bodes well for his next release. If its half as good as High Top Mountain then it will be well worth getting.
Simpson had some solid support on the night from local picker, Daniel Meade who regaled us with several songs that ranged from talking blues to ragtime to folky songs with a Guy Clark feel. Several songs from his album, As Good As Bad Can Be, Hard To Hear and If It’s Not Your Fault (I Guess It’s Mine) were all well above par. You can listen to the album (and buy it) here.