Well now. The Dallas Observer has even more explaining to do.
In the alternative newsweekly’s irresponsible and incorrect piece entitled “Sturgill Simpson Hasn’t Betrayed Country Music Because He Never Was a Country Artist” beginning with the laughable assertion, “Sturgill Simpson never said he was a country artist,” they decided to weave their misnomers on Sturgill Simpson taken from a slanted, non-country perspective into a ridiculous think piece that had Sturgill Simpson fans freaking out about how he’s abandoned his country roots. But it’s what we’ve come to expect from a rag that also put words into the great Merle Haggard’s mouth, alluding that he didn’t think country music needed to be saved (when he clearly believes quite the contrary), and that once predicted the death of Justin Townes Earle via suicide or overdose. “I have a mother,” was Justin Townes Earle’s response (Justin’s still alive BTW).
Now Sturgill has responded to the concerns and accusations that he’s abandoned country in a short interview with Joseph Hudak of Rolling Stone.
“Some people will say, and have said, that I’m trying to run from country, but I’m never going to make anything other than a country record. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s going to be a country song. . . but it doesn’t make the think pieces any less amusing,” says Simpson. “I thought it was hilarious when ‘Brace for Impact’ was released and people said I had abandoned country even though the song is dripping with pedal steel. If anything, that tells me I’m making progress.”
The gall of the Dallas Observer piece wasn’t just that they said Simpson’s new record wouldn’t be country, but said that his previous albums weren’t either. That led to Saving Country Music posting a screed in response to the Dallas Observer, and this important warning:
As the proprietor of a website called Saving Country Music, and someone who has followed Sturgill Simpson longer than most, and reported on his career more than anyone, I personally want Sturgill Simpson to make whatever music he feels in his heart, whatever the genre. Sturgill made his ultra country debut ‘High Top Mountain’ for his grandfather, and he made ‘A Sailor’s Guide To Earth’ for his son. And so how can you fault the man for where he has chosen to take his music? If you are a fan of Sturgill Simpson, you should be more than willing to follow him on his journey, and trust him on where he’s leading you, at least until you’ve given him ample leeway, and then you can make an informed, conscious decision to turn back if you choose. We still haven’t even heard his new album yet, so I’m not even sure why we’re having these discussions. It’s all so presumptive.
For the love of all things holy people, let’s wait for this stinking record to come out before we make up or minds of how good, or how country it is. Is “Brace For Impact” a country song? I think that’s open for interpretation. Sturgill thinks it is, but just having steel guitar on a track doesn’t immediately make it country, just like not having steel guitar or traditional country instrumentation doesn’t mean something isn’t country. And just because something isn’t country doesn’t mean it’s bad, just like if something is country doesn’t always mean it’s good. Sturgill also said to GQ recently, “I just don’t see myself as a songwriter or a country singer or any of those things anymore,” so there’s been a few mixed message here coming from the man himself.
But if you judge this Sturgill Simpson record before you listen to it, then you’re putting an unnecessary limitation on your musical experience. And if you’ve already heard the record and you’re not part of the media or Atlantic Records (which apparently is the case for some), well then that means you’re a file-sharing asshole and your opinion is unwanted at this point.
Some wanted to make Sturgill Simpson a country music savoir, and that was unfair to him. Now others want to use him to assert their ideology that genres don’t matter and that his music isn’t country or never was never country, and that’s unfair too. And all this might be even more difficult to navigate soon since it looks like Sturgill’s cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” could be the next single from the record. But even that won’t give us a definitive answer to what flavor A Sailor’s Guide to Earth will be. It’s up to all of us to keep an open mind. That’s much of the message embodied in Simpson’s music. And even more so, Simpson has earned that respect and latitude.