Sturgill Simpson at Rough Trade West
Country music is not for everyone. As a European, usually, you love or you hate it. Unless you’re into the history of the south of the United States, or unless you’re into the genre tout court, you won’t find hipsters listening to it. It may be the last genre that is still pure and not contaminated by modes and cheap fashion trends. Many don’t know how important and influential country music has been for folk and rock music. That’s why, yesterday in Portobello at Rough Trade West, the average age of the audience attending the show was more then 45, but the quality of the gig was ageless.
Sturgill Simpson is from Kentucky and has spent his last week in the UK, traveling to present his new record High Top Mountain, a compendium of how country music should sound and should be written. Classic references, classic instrumentation (mostly a steel guitar) and a classic topoi in the lyrics of the songs (love, hate, betrayal and that leitmotif of a man belonging to a territory, typical of country music). “My Great Grandfather spent his days in a coal mine and his nights on the porch in a chair. Now he’s in heaven and down here in hell the rivers run muddy and the mountains are bare”, he sang in the superb Old King Coal. With a guitar and with a powerful, deep voice, Simpson played just six songs from his last record, but the intensity of the execution and the undeniable talent of this man made the experience very touching indeed.
“I’m trying to pay homage to my family and where I’m from”, said Simpson in a recent interview, and considering the remarkable songs played at the venue, we trust him. Songs full of stories and traditions – both in the ballads (Water In a Well, Hero) and in the richer songs (Railway of Sin, Poor Rambler) – engaged the audience in a religious-like and respectful silence. High Top Mountain is a record about defeated people and injustice (“Born on a summer day in some dark holler, way back in the hills of Perry County. Well he grew up poor and he never saw a dollar, but a dollar ain’t no good in a coal camp anyway”) but thank goodness, as he very well proved, Simpson is not defeated.
For further information and future events visit Sturgill Simpson’s website here.
Watch the video for Railroad of Sin here: