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Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is the rare album that traverses the entire world, both musically and lyrically. It’s dizzyingly diverse, jumping from one style to the next, with ports of call in Motor City and Music Row, Harlem and Stax, Berlin and London, yet it never leaves Simpson’s very specific point of view. It’s his most personal album as well as his most ambitious: a song cycle penned as a sailor’s poignant letter home to the wife and child he left behind.
Aptly, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth is all over the map, presenting Simpson as music’s most daring auteur. He combines the sophisticated soul of 70s Motown, the stomping r&b flash of the Dap-Kings, the reckless rave-ups of the Stones and the Clash, even the countrypolitan flare of legendary Nashville producer Owen Bradley. “I wanted it to be an exploration of all the different types of music that I love—a musical journey,” he says. “I listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye, a lot of Bill Withers. I like the way George Harrison sings and tried to incorporate that. Some people will say I’m trying to run from country, but I’m never going to make anything other than a country record. As soon as I open my mouth, it’s going to be a country song.”