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Sturgill Simpson - The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (Album Review)

Thursday, 26 August 2021 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Semi Song

Sturgill Simpson’s not settling into a particular groove. Having broken through internationally via 2014’s ‘Metamodern Sounds in Country Music’, the Kentuckian switched gears for the big band memoir ‘A Sailor’s Guide to Earth’ (2016) before a left turn into space-rock on ‘Sound & Fury’ (2019), the latter representing a more limited success. His new release is a western concept album that follows two bluegrass LPs recorded last year.

The album’s eponymous heroes’ story is told over a taut 10 tracks, from Dood’s introduction in the furnace of the American Civil War, to Juanita’s kidnap by a bandit, to Dood’s subsequent quest to save her. It’s rich mountain music recorded with a small bluegrass band and is conceptually similar to Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’ (1975), with the storytelling occasionally outranking the songwriting.

Concept albums of this ilk often struggle because of indiscipline regarding the central narrative. Even the most acclaimed examples in the genre—Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ or Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’—struggle under the weight of imposed plotlines.

This is probably why artists prefer to use a looser conceptual framework, as with Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ or Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On?’.

But Simpson is pretty successful here. One reason is the length and scope of the project. The album’s relative musical simplicity makes it pleasingly self-contained and it never really feels self-indulgent when only stretching to 30 minutes. 

More importantly, though, the quality and familiarity of the storytelling make it remarkably engaging listening, and Simpson’s skill in performance and lyricism is as striking as it has been all along. Furthermore, it’s likely that those two bluegrass albums have sharpened and enhanced his arrangement skills. He continues innovating and improving, and is one of country music's true modern artists.

Sturgill Simpson Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue September 28 2021 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Wed September 29 2021 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Thu September 30 2021 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Fri October 01 2021 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Sat October 02 2021 - NEW YORK New York - Webster Hall (USA)
Thu November 18 2021 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Ryman Auditorium (USA)
Fri November 19 2021 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Ryman Auditorium (USA)
Sat November 20 2021 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Ryman Auditorium (USA)

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