Sturgill Simpson is known for taking traditional country structures and putting a modern spin on them. Cuttin’ Grass Vol 1 and Vol 2, as well as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music are prime examples of this modern country sound, which is also evident in Colter Wall’s and Orville Peck’s work. His highly anticipated new record The Ballad of Dood and Juanita has dropped and Simpson sees what would happen if you put O Brother, Where Art Thou and Radiohead’s Ok Computer in a blender.
Simpson’s record is a bluegrass opera / concept record about a man who falls in love, has his girlfriend abducted by an outlaw whom he knows, chases him on horseback, has his dog die, saves his girlfriend Juanita and hunts down the outlaw…a tale as old as time. As an aside, Sam is the best song about a dog in all of music. The idea of a bluegrass concept record is something that is difficult to wrap your head around. However, traditional bluegrass has a combination of blues emotion with country music storytelling that does lend itself to a deep concept record.
The traditional bluegrass arrangements and musicality on this record is a great compliment to the storytelling. Traditional instruments with Simpson’s emotive and soulful country baritone is an excellent pairing. This gives the final showdown in Old Dood (Part II) an added dramatic tension that pulls in the listener. All great country tells an engrossing story and Simpson is an amazing storyteller. You get an old west showdown vibe from this track that brings the record to a fulfilling end.
Sturgill Simpson is on the cutting edge of a pre-war country / bluegrass revival, which I am a huge fan of. The entire record takes twists and turns, which makes is more of an old west audio book than a record. However, this is a book you will not want to put down and read again and again. Good guys, bad guys, shootouts and a dog…what else do you need in a record?
Listen to Old Dood (Part II)