Published on October 21st, 2020 | by Craig Silliphant0
Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass: Vol. 1
The always surprising Sturgill Simpson dropped an unheralded record release, Cuttin’ Grass: Vol. 1, which finds him finally embracing his Appalachian roots to explore bluegrass.
Sturgill Simpson has been one of the most interesting figures in what I’d loosely call, country music, in ages. Perhaps since the heyday of outlaw country. And especially if you eschew the garbage fire of mediocrity that is Wal-mart country. I got a chance to see him in 2016, and it was one of the best shows of the year.
Simpson continually veers the truck into directions that you’re least expecting, which has mostly had amazing results with ground-breaking records like Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Last year’s Sound & Fury was less successful, but if you want to make an omelet, you’ve gotta break a few eggs (to be fair, the album did have its highs — and maybe there’s more to be taken from it over time). He throws stuff out there, being true to himself and his own muses, for better or worse. And it’s usually better. Side note: I was amused to see him turn up in the movie, The Hunt, a criminally underrated, goofy political horror splatterfest from last year.
In 2020, Simpson has driven off the path again, but this time into more well-worn territory, with Cuttin’ Grass: Vol. 1. That is to say, the super crazy weirdo thing about this release — is that it’s a straightforward bluegrass and roots album. His most straightforward full-length since 2013’s High Top Mountain, his homage to 70s country.
The album was a bit of a Covid experiment, which he promised fans after they exceeded donations to his chosen charities (The Special Forces Foundation, The Equity Alliance, and MusiCares). Simpson actually caught Covid in the early days of the pandemic). But once he was better, he put the band together and they recorded live off the floor, busting out enough tunes for two albums. We’ll see if there ends up being a Cuttin’ Grass: Vol. 2 sooner than later. I don’t know if I even need that right away; I’d be happy to see him veer off the path again and maybe release more of this material later. Not being able to predict Simpson is precisely what keeps him interesting, while his talent usually makes the music work.
One thing is for sure — Cuttin’ Grass is a goddamn hoot. From its hilariously winking cover art, to the way Simpson and his band are pickin’ and grinnin’ their way through 20 tracks at top speed, 55 minutes never sounded so fun. It’s as quick and breezy as a half hour Weezer album at double the length.
We’ve heard these songs before; seven songs each off High Top Mountain and Metamodern Sounds, two tracks off A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and even four tracks from Sunday Valley, the band he fronted before going solo.
It’s worth mentioning that Simpson is a true-blue Kentucky bluegrass picker that has perhaps been outrunning his birthright for a while. Even his Sunday Valley work sounds like it’s hiding these roots, and they shine through occasionally. But if the idea of making bluegrass versions of songs we already know sounds like a gimmick, it sure doesn’t come off that way when you hit play or slap on the headphones. Simpson, once again, has quietly thrown down one of the best albums of the year.