High Top Mountain
High Top Mountain Records
Sturgill Simpson might not have your traditional country name, but that’s all he’s lacking. On his debut record, High Top Mountain, Simpson brings his pure country soul and newcomer sass to bear on 12 cuts of hillbilly heaven. Starting with “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean,” Sturgill sounds like a 30- year veteran instead of a newcomer, full of confidence born from authenticity and a deep appreciation of those who came before, such as Waylon Jennings (whom Simpson could be the second coming of), in his manner and attitude. “Railroad of Sin” is a breakneck bluegrass-flavored ode to the rough side of life, and “Sitting Here Without You” showcases country legend Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, and damn if it ain’t good to hear him again. Simpson can slow it down as well, such as on “Water in a Well” or the heart-felt “Hero.”
He has a swagger that comes through in songs such as “Some Days” or the hilarious “You Can Have the Crown” — “They call me king turd here on shit mountain, if you want it you can have the crown” — and sounds more like Hank 3 than Hank Sr. The album closes with two covers: Ralph Stanley’s “Poor Rambler” and a loving take on Steve Fromholz’s “I’d Have to Be Crazy,” which allows Simpson’s deep voice to find space between Robbin’s piano and an aching pedal steel, a smart and beautiful moment to end one of the great country albums of this, or any other year.
From his induction to the Grand Ole Opry to opening for Dwight Yoakum, this has a been a dizzying year for the Kentucky native, but if High Top Mountain gives any indication, it ain’t gonna slow down for Sturgill Simpson anytime soon. Compelling and compulsively listenable, this is one of the year’s best albums, hands down.