Sturgill Simpson: “Turtles All The Way Down”

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller

The first thing you notice about Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All The Way Down”–besides the title, of course–is Simpson’s voice. He’s got a classic country rasp, the kind that would have beamed out of car radios in 1970s Austin. The crystal-clear production is pure Nashville, as is Simpson’s religious subject matter. But halfway through, things get weird.

Like a lot of country songs, “Turtles” is about finding answers, be it through religion, drugs, or love, yet Simpson has a subversive way of expressing himself. “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane,” begins the second verse, “where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain.” As he rattles through a list of drugs he’s experimented with, the production gets progressively more psychedelic. “They all changed the way I see / But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life,” Simpson sighs as the pedal steel bursts like a supernova around him.

“I was kind of bored of drinking songs, you know?” Simpson explained to Grantland. His second album, the cheekily-named Metamodern Sounds In Country Music–a tip-of-the hat to Ray Charles’s own subversive tendencies–seeks to unite Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash. It’s the truest expression of the kind of “cosmic Americana” Gram Parsons developed in the late ’60s and early ’70s, but perhaps this kind of culture clash is more modern than we think.

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