Sturgill Simpson is one of my favorite artists. He’s not afraid to experiment with his sound, or to write lyrics deeply grounded in real life. I know that his last two albums are the ones most talked about now, but I thought I’d discuss High Top Mountain. It’s the most country of the three albums Sturgill Simpson has released under his name so far, and it’s the one that introduced me to his music.
Release Date: 2013
Style: Traditional Country
Who Might Like this Album: People who love steel guitar and honest lyrics
Standout Tracks: “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean,” “Water in a Well,” “You Can Have the Crown,” “Hero,” “Some Days”
Reflections: Right away, when “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” starts off, you know what you’re in for. The song’s fast, unashamedly country in instrumentation, and Sturgill Simpson’s voice is deep and Southern. The album does eventually slow down, but it starts with a whirlwind. When I first heard the beginning of this album, I was instantly in love. This is the kind of music I want to hear. The fact that his band is so talented with guitar, drums, and pedal steel is the icing on the cake. The lyrics, though, are what makes this album stand out. “that’s the way it goes, life ain’t fair and the world is mean” is part of the chorus. Unless you’re leading a charmed life, you can’t help but relate to that.
Things slow down though, for songs like “Water in a Well”, and the writing gets even better. “Our love has all dried up like water in a well” is such a fabulous line. The slower melody and the steel guitar really help to carry this song, too.
My absolute favorite track on this album is “You Can Have the Crown”. It’s like cynicism dialed to ten, and it’s fantastic. The song is fast, with great steel guitar, but the lyrics steal the show, once again. I mean, who says stuff like “They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain, if you want it you can have the crown”? Once you’ve gotten over that particular line though, you see that The magic of it is that it surprisingly works. He’s broke, is wife wants a child, and he’s over it all. I love it.
Before you think this album is all doom and gloom, listen to “Hero”. Sturgill Simpson tells the tale of his grandfather who helped him through hard times, and it’s one of the best songs about love for family I’ve ever heard. He praises the generosity of his relative, and his grandfather’s work ethic to provide for his wife. It’s truly a fantastic song. “I know I’ll never find another hero, not another one like him” tells you everything you need to know about this song’s theme.
“Some Days” is a great track too, where he claims “people only wanna be your friend if you’ve got something they need”. Again, this is extremely relatable, as most people in their life have known friends like this. It’s another cynical song filled with frustration, but the thing that keeps the album from becoming too repetitive is that it’s real-life frustration. He frames his stories around people and situations you can picture, or you know that someone else has been in.
I know that this album(and Sturgill Simpson himself), have been talked about endlessly for years. However, I just couldn’t let an opportunity to discuss him and this album pass by. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite album by Sturgill Simpson, but I love how extremely country this one is. His lyrics, whether about love lost, his heroes, or his frustration over life, are extremely well-done. I still come back to this album, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.