Simpson gives advice to his son, MacKillop gets introspective
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
The sea is a curious place. The wonders, the mysteries, the uncertainties. It takes a skilled and experienced sailor to navigate the treacherous waters and even then, he or she doesn’t know a lick of what to expect throughout the journey. All someone can do is set sail, let go, and enjoy the ride whole it lasts.
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is Sturgill Simpson’s journal of notes and advice to his son. It’s his wisdom and package of anecdotes rolled up in a bottle and set off to the waves and wonders. The follow up to his critically acclaimed and award-winning Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is as expansive, personal, and experimental. It’s still a country album at its core and in the structure, but there is heaps of blues, jazz, rock and folk that make for an incredibly fun record.
The album starts off on the somber end with “Welcome to the Earth (Pollywag)” and “Breakers Roar,” songs about the vast abyss, the uncertainty that life brings and the dreamlike qualities that exist every day. Both have lullaby qualities, piano, violin, soft vocals. They exert the feeling of the ups and downs in life.
Then he flips the script. In “Keep it between the Lines,” Simpson goes full on blues-rock and hits it out of the park with a cautionary tale of youth, what do to and not to do spoken from a man and father who has possibly done and seen it all. “Don’t turn mailboxes into baseballs, don’t get busted selling at seventeen. Motor oil is motor oil just keep your engine clean.”
The theme of the record comes off the rails only a few times, but as a complete collection, “country music,”—as far Simpson wants to stretch that—doesn’t get much better than this. Highlights also include the cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” which still fits in the realm of a narrator trying to figure it out as he goes along, the sax solo and organ playing in the incredibly crafted “All Around You,” and the angry, politically driven “Call to Arms” which is hard not to compare to a Springsteen rally song. Simpson continues to prove that in order to keep country fresh, you just have to shake things up and write the damn songs yourself.
Sturgill Simpson plays the Tivoli Theater on May 18.
In today’s culture of discovering music, it’s always easy finding inspiration. There are new artists on the singer-songwriter wavelength like Gregory Alan Isakov and moody veterans like Ryan Adams who keep the genre refined and never tired. In Kyle MacKillop’s The Island, he touches on each inspiration and is set on making a path for himself.
MacKillop is a good storyteller. You can tell what kind of music he listens to and the ones he aspires to write, record and produce. Sometimes he gets stuck in clichés, like in the early verse of “Funny Way,” a track about a troubled love complicated with distance and communication, but outside of that, he paints a delicate picture of someone moving on from him: “When I look west I know you’re still walkin’ / And I see your silhouette against the sun.”
Another standout is the title track, “The Island.” A sweetly produced track of simple strumming and simple piano chords with the undeniable talent of harmonies a mystery female voice that isn’t listed in the credits. What’s a girl gotta do to get some love? She’s featured on multiple songs and makes every one better with the subtleness and tenderness of her voice.
Throughout the album, there are strings of very refined and mature vocals, especially in “Watch You Go.” MacKillop doesn’t try too hard to sing, which a lot of young singers try to do. He knows where his voice fits in the song and excels when he is reserved and lets the story of the song sing itself. Elsewhere, there are typical singer-songwriter themes of hometown anxiety, the urge to hit the road and desire for a new start, wherever that may be.