In addition to being a tip of the hat to Ray Charles, the title of Sturgill Simpson’s new album is more than a little ironic considering that he is known to rock one of the most retro sounds out there. In fact, a quick pass of the first track might have you thinking you’ve uncovered a lost gem from the 1970s.
But, listen a little closer, and the irony begins to fade. From the hallucinogens of “Turtles All the Way Down” to the rebellion of “Living the Dream,” Simpson really is pushing both meta and modern on this set as he delves into all manner of exploratory themes drawn from his reading of Carl Sagan, Terrence McKenna, and other mystical sources. And, yet, Simpson still does right by the classic outlaw country tradition from which he hails — he even manages to turn an ’80s dance hit (“The Promise”) into a heartfelt country ballad.
Recorded live to tape in four days, Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is raw and revealing, but not roughly hewn. Producer Dave Cobb smoothed out the edges just enough to make it go down nice and easy.
This review originally appeared in Elmore.