STURGULL SIMPSON raids his own catalog for a bluegrass album, “CUTTIN’ GRASS, VOL 1. (THE BUTCHER SHOPPE SESSIONS) out NOW on 2xLP and CD!

In the first, anonymous year he lived in Nashville, STURGILL SIMPSON would head out from his ugly apartment to the Station Inn every Sunday night and play bluegrass. A Kentucky kid, Simpson had avoided the music growing up despite his grandfather’s proselytizing, preferring electric guitar buzz. But as he struggled in a city where music-industry conformity often seemed to taint the water, he found that bluegrass — a music that’s both rule-bound and wild, peaceful and room-wrecking — was as paradoxical and endlessly interesting as he hoped his own songs could be.

Fifteen years later, Simpson has followed his zigzagging muse through one of the 21st century’s most fascinating musical careers. He’s rewritten country’s rulebook, explored psychedelic rock and almost-heavy metal and gained a fervent audience doing the opposite of what Nashville’s establishment thought he should do. A look back is in order. He offers just that on the just-released CUTTIN’ GRASS, VOL. 1 (THE BUTCHER SHOPPE SESSIONS), a surprise drop on his own label, High Top Mountain Records.

Bluegrass aficionados will marvel at the band: not only fiddle player STUART DUNCAN (Yo Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer) and mandolin player SIERRA HULL (Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss) and banjoist SCOTT VESTAL (Sam Bush, John  Cowan), but bassist MIKE BUB and guitarists TIM O’BRIEN and MARK HOWARD. (Simpson’s regular drummer and fellow bluegrass expert MILES MILLER anchors the rhythms.) These players embody the epoch Simpson favors, from Bub’s work with Del McCoury’s classic band to O’Brien’s innovations in Hot Rize to Hull’s thoroughly contemporary, songwriterly solo efforts. (It’s notable that Duncan and Bub played on The Mountain, the bluegrass album that Steve Earle, Simpson’s country-rock spiritual uncle, made in 1999, at a similar point in his career.) Simpson can just be himself in this company – he doesn’t greatly alter his trademark, resonant singing style, but it’s tempered, lighter, defter.

Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 is in-stock now, and available in our webstore, on CD, 2xLP and indie-store only green-and-yellow vinyl 2xLP. Buy the CD or LP HERE and the colored-vinyl version HERE.

Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 1 features 20 new versions of songs cherry-picked from the country-leaning side of Simpson’s career, stretching back to his now mostly-forgotten band Sunday Valley, with selections from his first three solo albums, reimagined by an intergenerational band of bluegrass legends, its leader relaxing into the richest corners of his Kentucky baritone. Quickly recorded but with years of love behind it, it’s a chance for Simpson to reveal what bluegrass has given to him, and what he has to offer it.

Simpson lovers will enjoy tracing the way this band’s work both transforms and highlights what’s great about Simpson’s songs. He’s said that the bluegrass he loves dates from the post-war period when titans like Bill Monroe were defining it in jazz-wise ways, to the mid-1970s, when its experimental edge was arguably compromised by the tyranny of super-fast, athletic flashiness. The players he and Ferguson have gathered are Olympian in prowess, but graceful and flexible in the way they use their chops to adapt these songs

The big-band vibe of Simpson’s Sailor’s Guide ballad for his first-born son, “All Around You,” becomes sweeter adhering to the patterns of a country waltz. The simmering ballad “Just Let Go,” from Metamodern Sounds, gains swing from  DUNCAN’s fiddle and HULL’s mandolin. “Living the Dream,” a citified blues, goes rural under the guidance of banjoist SCOTT VESTAL. The Kris Kristofferson-esque “Turtles All the Way Down,” the signature song of his psychedelia-influenced phase, is now redolent of Bill Monroe – precise, but like a jazz dance, every step offering a little twist.

As usual, Simpson’s right on time with this surprise move. In 2020, bluegrass is changing, with groundbreakers like MOLLY TUTTLE, OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS, DOM FLEMONS and JAKE BLOUNT pushing its boundaries and elders like SAM BUSH and ALICE GERRARD finding a new generation of fans. Simpson’s protégé TYLER CHILDERS released his own bluegrass session, Long Violent History, just a month ago. This most modern of traditional forms is again renewing itself. Grabbing a chair within its circle again, Simpson shows how he’s been part of that process for years.

Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 1 (The Butcher Shoppe Sessions) is in-stock now at Horizon Records, or you can order it at our webstore HERE; and check out these other sweet Sturgill platters!


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