Album Review – Sturgill Simpson’s “High Top Mountain”

June 11, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  34 Comments

sturgill-simpsonReal country fans are just going to have to get comfortable with the new reality that their favorite music is on a surprising uptick. No more mopey faces, no more plotting midnight graffiti runs to Music Row as retribution for keeping your favorite artists down. Regardless of what kind of filth is still transpiring on country radio, a new spring of vibrant, independent country music is blooming and finding surprising support, and there may not be a better example of this new season than Kentucky native Sturgill Simpson and his breakout album High Top Mountain.

The front man for the wanton and reckless Sunday Valley project is all growns up, and lays down a fiercely traditional, hardcore honky tonk album slathered with steel guitar, country keys from Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins, and whatever else is called for and in ample measure to give life and color to Sturgill’s blue ribbon offerings.

There’s very little that is gray about the Sturgill Simpson experience. Mid tempos and mild themes need not apply. Either he’s barreling down on you like a freight train at a breakneck tempo, or he’s grabbing hold of ventricles and tugging hard. This isn’t too far off from the Sunday Valley approach, but like Sturgill says in the High Top Mountain song “Time After All,” “I’m sick of the clanging, can’t take no more banging. I’m tired of yelling over the top of that backline.” With Sunday Valley, you heard. With Sturgill Simpson, you listen. Subtly and the importance of songcraft is more respected on High Top Mountain, without fully tempering the fever that still boils behind Sturgill’s eyes.

The Waylon comparisons already abound with High Top Mountain, in both style and sound, which shows you that the slightly more settled approach to the music did its job of emphasizing the best parts of Sturgill’s music instead of having them blurred out. Still the songs of High Top Mountain come at you hard and fast, touching every point on the emotional array, and shifting gears from slow and sad, to fast and frenzied with surprising alacrity.

sturgill-simpson-high-top-mountainThough established Sturgill fans may prefer a different version of the “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean” opening track, fresh ears will feast on its cunning lyrics and crafty pedal-steel break. “Railroad of Sin” and “You Can Have The Crown” are downright barn burning good times, with the latter providing what may turn out be one the album’s biggest lyrical takeaways, “So Lord if I could just get me a record deal, I might not have to worry about my next meal, but I’d still be trying to figure out what the hell rhymes with ‘Bronco.'”

The other side of the spectrum is represented in the heartfelt “Water in a Well,” and the deeply-personal tribute “Hero.” There’s a lot of coal dust smeared on these songs, from the opening track that talks about Sturgill’s mother being a coal miner’s daughter, to the heart-wrenching “Old King Coal.” It’s seems only appropriate that the heart of High Top Mountain would be a big black nugget considering Sturgill’s Kentucky roots.

And the scariest thing is that however good this album is, Sturgill probably still left some talent on the shelf. He’ll tell you his guitar playing is novice compared to the caliber of pickers he’s surrounded with in his new home of Nashville, but I have to respectfully disagree. Though technically he may be junior to some players, when it comes to taste and originality, Sturgills bluegrass-inspired style of takeoff Telecaster is something few of the slickest session players could ever touch. You only get a nibble of this when Sturgill is holding an acoustic, but it’s give and take because the acoustic allows you to focus more on the song.

Not every track on High Top Mountain is world beating. “Sitting Here Without You” seems a little cliché. Some ears may get the wrong impression from the use of Mellotron on some tracks—an analog and mechanical tape-based organ-like instrument that re-creates the sound of an orchestra. Some may mistake it for synthesizer, some may think it hits too close to “The Nashville Sound.” But for those who pick up on it and identify the tone, it’s a cool little treat that gives High Top Mountain a vintage country feel without the stuffiness of an actual string section, elevating the cool factor of this album even further.

Emerging from the coal region of Kentucky, to working on trains in Utah, to Nashville, TN to tackle the nasty business of trying to make it in music, Sturgill’s path has been windy, but like the stitches on the cover of High Top Mountain, it has lead to a sunny ending of seeing the realizations of his dreams—dreams that we all benefit from in the form of a great new gift of country music.

Two guns up!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Purchase High Top Mountain from Sturgill Simpson

Preview & Purchase Tracks on Amazon

34 Comments to “Album Review – Sturgill Simpson’s “High Top Mountain””

  • It’s album of the year for me. My only complaint, albeit a minor one, is that I wish Life Aint Fair was cut more along the lines of the old Youtube video.

    • Can’t you just be happy with this great offering we have from Sturgill? Why be negative? Do you lust after Luke Bryant?…yes…yes..you do! hahaha

  • I totally agree! This is definitely album of the year for me as well so far. Haven’t stopped playing it since I got the album because every song on this album is great in my opinion.

  • It’s my album of the year. I really like “Some Day” and “Poor rambler” but anyway every single track on this record is great so it’s perfect for me.

  • I love this album and I love Sutrgill Simpson. The man is multi-talented. Writing, singing, playing. I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for him.
    My dad is getting High Top Mountain for Father’s Day!
    It’s hard for me to choose between High Top Mountain and Bless This Mess by Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band for albm of the year. They both are simply amazing!!!
    I totally agree with your review Trigger-thank you

  • Best thing to come about in quite a while.. Traditional country needed Sturgill Simpson..!

  • I don’t think anyone could say anything bad about this guy. He’s absolutely 100% real, and he’s what country needs. Someone who puts themselves into an album and sings about what they relate to. Album of the Year for me, and I hope that I can get my hands on it soon. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for Sturgill after this album gets a little more light shined on it.

  • Great album, but if people I throwing out there album of the year, I have to go with Eric Strickland and the B Sides “Bad for You” personally. I’d put this one at number 4. I’ve got Dale Watson “El Rancho Azul” and Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose” ahead of it. Still a number 4 finish is not bad for such a great year for album releases (and we’re only in June”) I don’t see how this release wouldn’t be in anyone’s top 5 though.

    • I apologize for the awful spelling and grammar in that comment.

      • You’d be better off apologizing for putting Hightop Mountain that low. Lol, I know its just preference but out of those 4 choices, which are all respectful records, “Bad For You” is the only one that comes close. Sturgill is dunking and everyone else is just touching net…

  • Best album for me in a long time. Thanks a lot for promoting first the video then the album.

  • I’m also of the position that the original, live studio cut of “Life Ain’t Fair & the World is Mean” is the superior version. It’s disappointing that Sturgill didn’t include it on the album as a bonus track or add it to iTunes as a single. Regardless, good album review. I look forward to hearing the rest of “High Top Mountain.”

  • Outstanding review, you covered it all, I can’t add anything worthwhile but I want to say something, so….

    ” but I’d still be trying to figure out what the hell rhymes with ‘Bronco.’””

    Posted this tune at a friend’s site, and that’s the line they picked out.

    I think it’s funny that he thinks he’s not a good guitar player. He’s got to be kidding.

    The biggest difference between his guitar playing , and the fast playing hotshots, is that you can probably recognize his, without being told it’s him, while most of those hotshots sound exactly the same.

    smart of somebody to get that piano player too.

    phoned my local roots radio program requesting they play sturgill simpson, and recommending they come to this site.

    Music is completely personal.

    For me, this is the best album I’ve heard in a long time. not just country, any genre.

  • Very solid record. Besides the Waylon sound, I hear shades of Hank Jr., Keith Whitley, and even the Allman Brothers at times. For my tastes, though, this is a half notch below JP Harris/Whitey Morgan/Weldon Henson among the new traditionalists.

  • I got my vinyl in the mail yesterday, now to just get my record player set back up. But I haven’t stopped listening to this album since the day I preordered it.

  • Yeah man. There is more talent in these hills than the world is ready for. Thank you Trigger for plucking out Ol Sturgill. We shall patiently wait for his meteoric rise my friend!

  • If you’re interested, There are some comments by Sturgiss about the album at his manger’s website… here:


  • Fantastic album. Gets better with every listen. The first day I downloaded it, I might have actually been a little disappointed, because I had such high expectations. Once i listened all the way through a few times, I began to realize how solid the whole record is.

  • My copy came about 2 and a half weeks ago! I’ve had the download since I ordered the cd. The only thing I wish it had is the lyrics. Other than that this is one of the top cds of the year! .

  • Mine should arrive tomorrow, along with the new Jason Isbell. Should make for a very enjoyable evening.

    I saw a Facebook update from Marty Stuart yesterday calling Sturgill a real hard core country singer and suggesting that we check out the new album. That was cool.

    • Yeah Sturgill opened up for Marty weekend before last at Maryville TN.

  • Thank you!!! I will tell all my friends. This is the way it should be. God damn

  • I have missed 2 Sturgill shows in 2 weeks. I ought to have my ass kicked. I’m enjoying the new album though. It is truly what country music needs more of. Between this album and the Isbell and Moreland albums, this has been a spectacular week for great music.

  • Jeez, that new John Moreland album (who I had never heard of previously) is getting so much love in our rootsy circles. It’s like somebody’s trying to tell me something. ;)

  • So i bought the album and got to listen to it today. His upbeat songs reminds me of Waylons songs and some older Boland stuff. What really struck me were the slower tracks. The man definitely brings some Keith Whitley into those songs. Its almost dead on. Overall its a great album by a guy that seems to know that he wont make it big in mainstream country, and he is damn fine with that. We need more folks like this.

  • One of the few country albums that I have purchased in it’s entirety this year. Not a disappointment.

  • I just had a great idea. Maybe Sturgill can get the short-haired turd from Florida Georgia Line to stand around and pretend to sing and play guitar with him. That might get him the attention he needs!

  • This album is kick-ass! There is not a single bad thing to say about it, which is really rare for anything that comes out nowadays

  • The only complaint that I have is that this album came out after I turned 30. It would have been a great soundtrack for my twenties. Oh well, technology might add another ten years to my life.

  • album kicked ass… so glad to see true country growing again!!! sturgil, eric strickland, and a band name jonathan parker and the belairs who also just released there first cd show that true country can still be found. if you like waylon and jamey johnson then take them 2 and mix in a pot and what you get is jonathan parker the boy has got one hell of voice!!! but once again sturgil you over did yourself man damn good music to listen too!!!

  • Okay, after living with this a few days now, I have one thing to say….Keith Whitley meets Waylon Jennings.

  • and Water In The Well, just hurts my damned feelings!

  • Great review of a great cd! I was able to get a copy in April when I saw Sturgill Simpson open for Dwight Yoakam. Sturgill and his live band were nice enough to sign it for me. He definitely deserves all the attention he is getting. For me, there are few performers and new music to be excited about, but when I heard him live, then listened to the cd later…I knew this music was exactly what I had been waiting for.

  • I’m new to the website, and if there is one thing that I could take away from it right now it would be discovering this guy. His music is refreshing as hell. It just sounds like good, raw country music without the fake cowboy persona. This is definitely where country music needs to be headed, for my taste at least.

Leave a comment

Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
Hillgrass Bluebilly
Best Of Lists