Sound — 9
Upon first listen to Sturgill Simpson his voice recalls the bygone '70s outlaw country era with a quality similar to Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings. Simpson takes that sound and runs with it. Although this is a country album first and foremost it is at the same time much more than that. Elements of psychedelia and soul music can be found throughout, the best example being the opening track "Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)." The track begins as a slow country ballad with gorgeous string adornment which gives way to a pseudo-soul section featuring a horn section, wurlitzer piano and organ. Other instruments heard on the album include the typical country instrumentation of 12-string guitar, pedal steel guitar, and slide guitar. The pedal steel guitar in particular shines on the unique cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom." The string section continues to shine throughout the album providing each track with an atmospheric quality not often heard in country music. A synthesizer can also be hard on a few tracks along with bagpipes and some sounds of oceans and seabirds. The production is handled by Simpson himself sees that the instruments are mixed in a way that allows each individual instrument to stand out without dominating the field.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics fit very well with the laid back nature of many of the tracks. Themes include those of living life to the fullest and the importance of family. These family themes are tied into the rough aspects of life as a touring musician which similarly to sailors includes being away from family for extended periods of time. The entire album lyrically seems to be a metaphor for sailing through the issues life can throw at us. My favorite lyrics on the album come from the album closer "Call to Arms." This energetic rocker includes lyrics critical of US foreign policy in the middle east and a line about public apathy regarding government surveillance of citizens "Nobody's looking up to care about a drone/All too busy looking down at our phone." Simpson is adept at leading the songs with his deep and powerful vocals.
Overall Impression — 10
In a similar way to how Hank Williams III fuses traditional country with elements of punk and metal Sturgill Simpson seems equally comfortable fusing country with soul and psychedelic music. The tracks that stood out to me the most were "Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)," "In Bloom," "Brace for Impact (Live a Little)," "All Around You," and "Call to Arms." Having said this every track on this album was a standout, I found myself not skipping any of them upon my countless listens to this album. I couldn't find anything that I disliked about this album. I would definitely buy this album again if it were lost.