Cutting Grass Vol 2: The Cowboy Arms Sessions
High Top Mountain Records
A Reworked Collection That Deserves Mainstream Radio Play
After the success of the first volume in the series, Sturgill Simpson returns to his own back catalogue once more; and re-envisages it through a bluegrass glass.
Again, the personnel on the recordings is stellar – Mike Bub, Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull and Tim O’Brien are just four names that are all over this.
As might be expected the playing and recording quality are top notch. This time, the choice of cuts from Simpson’s back catalogue are generally a little deeper, but that doesn’t affect the quality of what’s on offer.
Things are kicked off with the rapid “Call to Arms”, played at a pace that could give Trampled by Turtles a run for their money. “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)” is taken at a more reflective pace and its atypical (for traditional Bluegrass) chord changes keep it melodically interesting.
“Oh Sarah” is straight out catchy and has great crossover potential too – definitely ‘Mainstream’ radio friendly.
“Sea Stories” starts with old-timey fiddle and is Sturgill Simpson framed in a similarly styled melodic singalong, whereas “Hero” is of a similar pace and there’s also a tuneful sensibility about it that makes it eminently hummable.
The oddly titled “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)”starts in reflective mode and then kicks off at the midway point – this version is to these ears, is much more affecting and tender than the original.
From a song about his son, to the son of God, the next track “Jesus Boogie” is an old Sunday Valley song but is miles away in tone from the original cow-punk thrash, starting as an acoustic slow-picked gospel tinted rendition, this time around before becoming a rumbling banjo and flat-picked guitar workout.
“Keep it Between the Lines” is an early 70s Dylanesque take with a stop-start Bluesy edge.
The tempo picks up again on “You Can Have the Crown” which lyrically plays to the “Old and in The Way” bluegrass-jam band crossover crowd with its name dropping of “I’ve been spending all my money on weed and pills;” and its ages old hard luck-hard life story.
“Tennessee” is a full on “get your lighter out” tune – its insistent lilting rhythm and insistent chorus creates a (near) sentimentality that doesn’t cloy.
Penultimate track “Some Days” is pure singalong, whereas album closer “Hobo Cartoon” strips the tune right down to acoustic guitar strums, vocals and occasional interventions from a plaintive fiddle.
Before reviewing this volume 2, I did wonder how it would be different from Volume 1 – upon reflection, Volume 1 is the one that makes a great festival set, whereas Volume 2 is a collection that deserves – because of the song choice and prominence of melody over genre stylings -to be played to a much wider audience.
Sturgill Simpson has gotten even closer to the bullseye with this release.
Review by Nick Barber
Released April 2nd 2021
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