Formerly the leader of Sunday Valley, an energetic roots outfit that made some waves in the early years of the new millennium, Sturgill Simpson gained greater renown as a solo artist, initially thanks to his muscular 2013 solo debut, High Top Mountain. An outlaw country record in form and feel -- its debt to Waylon Jennings clear and unashamed -- High Top Mountain became a word-of-mouth hit in 2013, thereby establishing Simpson's country credentials and opening the door to a wider future.
A native of Jackson, Kentucky, raised near Lexington, Simpson has deep Southern roots, but he moved out west once he reached his late teens. In 2004, he formed Sunday Valley, receiving a big break when they played Portland, Oregon's Pickathon Festival in 2011. Sturgill went solo in 2012, beginning work on the album that became High Top Mountain, which appeared the following year. After extensive touring, Simpson settled down in the studio to concentrate on his next recording. He experimented with stretching the boundaries of his chosen genre, digging deep into topics like physics and evolution, as evidenced by his pre-release single "Turtles (All the Way Down)." The Dave Cobb-produced album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, appeared in May of 2014 and peaked in the Top Ten on all of the country charts. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album. Simpson won Best Emerging Artist at that year's Americana Music Awards, and in 2015 was named Artist of the Year by the same foundation.
In March 2016, he released "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)," as the first single from the full-length A Sailor's Guide to Earth. The self-produced album was released in April and featured a guest appearance from the Dap-Kings. It earned rave reviews plus a surprise nomination for Grammy's Album of the Year. Although it lost the big award, A Sailor's Guide to Earth did win Best Country Album at the 2017 Grammys.
During 2017, Simpson kept a relatively low profile, touring some on his own and as an opener for Guns N' Roses. He also produced Purgatory, the debut album by Tyler Childers. In 2018, Simpson dabbled in acting, and film was an essential component of his next project, Sound & Fury. A noisy excursion into sci-fi rock & roll, the album was accompanied by an anime film upon its September 2019 release.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo