Sturgill Simpson may have tipped his hat to the Ray Charles classic Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music with the title of his last LP (2014’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music — more meta, less western), but he paid tribute to another soul hero at a concert last night in Asheville, North Carolina: Otis Redding. Covering the Stax Records staple “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” made famous by Redding and originally released by William Bell, Simpson applied his deep, dynamite pipes to the sultry number while his band gave it a jammy, twangy sheen.
Simpson’s soul roots run deep. In January, he signed to Atlantic Records, home of Redding and Charles and the label responsible for shaping much of the genre’s pop-culture influence through its partnership with Stax Records. And Simpson’s producer, Dave Cobb, is becoming known for his ability to infuse that Memphis and Muscle Shoals spirit into his work, taking his artists to record at places like FAME Studios in Alabama and popping grooving horn arrangements into often unexpected places.
Having covered everything from Buford Abner’s “Long White Line” to When in Rome’s “The Promise,” Simpson is clearly intent on focusing his influences outside of the Nashville bubble — particularly the “Savior of Outlaw Country” moniker he’s often been tagged with. Still, some of those outlaw leaders think it’s a role he’s fit to take.
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“As far as I’m concerned, [Simpson]’s the only one out there. The rest of them sound like a bunch of shit to me,” Merle Haggard told The Forum of Fargo-Moorehead. Hard to argue with the Hag.
Currently on the road with his Living the Dream Tour, Simpson will hit cities from New York to Oakland in the coming months, making a stop in his hometown for a sold-out, three-night run at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium at the end of next month. He’s also up for several trophies at tomorrow’s Americana Honors and Awards, including Artist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year for “Turtles All the Way Down.”