Sturgill Simpson has surprise-released a second bluegrass album. Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 2 – The Cowboy Arms Sessions arrived early Friday morning with 12 new recordings, including the previously unheard “Hobo Cartoon” — a song written by Simpson and Merle Haggard.
“I wish I was riding a steam train right out of the pages of time,” Simpson sings in the nostalgic tune, which namechecks “The Singing Brakeman” Jimmie Rodgers and Bing Crosby and celebrates the “heyday of the railroad.” “This is a song how the way things used to be/in the script of a hobo cartoon,” he croons in the payoff line.
In a release accompanying the album, Simpson details the origin of his collaboration with Haggard, who died in 2016.
“We got to know each other in the last two years of his life,” Simpson says. “He would call a lot, we’d talk on the phone. When he got sick, he was still writing songs, even in his hospital bed. This just popped up one day in the in box — he sent me these lyrics in a text and he said, ‘From one railroad man to another.’” (Haggard was fascinated with trains, and Simpson once worked on a railroad in Utah.) Simpson elaborated on the song’s origin in an interview with Elizabeth Cook on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country on Friday.
Simpson recorded “Hobo Cartoon,” along with the rest of the LP, at Cowboy Jack Clement’s gathering place for Nashville outsiders, the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa. While he settled on a bluegrass interpretation, he isn’t ruling out another version. “Maybe I’ll recut it with a hard country band one day, but it just seemed like a beautiful way to end this chapter,” he said.
Along with “Hobo Cartoon,” the new album includes six songs off Simpson’s Grammy-winning LP A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, three from his debut LP High Top Mountain, including the fan favorite “You Can Have the Crown,” a track from Simpson’s old band Sunday Valley, and another previously unreleased song, “Tennessee.” A physical release is set for April 2nd. Simpson dropped Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 – The Butcher Shoppe Sessions in October.
Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 2 – The Cowboy Arms Sessions:
1. “Call to Arms”
2. “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”
3. “Oh Sarah”
4. “Sea Stories”
6. “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)”
7. “Jesus Boogie”
8. “Keep It Between the Lines”
9. “You Can Have the Crown”
11. “Some Days”
12. “Hobo Cartoon”