Exclaim!'s Top 10 Folk & Country Albums Best of 2016



 
1. Sturgill Simpson
A Sailor's Guide to Earth
(Warner)

Pitched somewhere between Muscle Shoals soul, outlaw country and Elvis Presley circa On Stage, Sturgill Simpson's bravura third record sounds like little else you're likely to have heard in 2016. A loose concept album based on an itinerant sailor's letters home to his wife and son from overseas, A Sailor's Guide to Earth is reflective, swaggering and spiked with moments of disarming honesty.
 
It's also profoundly weird. From the woozy flow of "Breaker's Roar" to the rollicking thump of "Keep It Between the Lines" and "Brace for Impact," Simpson weaves his unlikely influences into tight braids that seem at once familiar and exotic. But perhaps most attractive of all is that underneath all of this careful construction lies a sparkling playfulness. There are sound effects, a radical Nirvana cover, political statements and sudden admissions of anguish and loss. It's a high-wire act, pulling all of this off without succumbing to self-indulgence or messiness, but you get the sense that Sturgill Simpson isn't even worried about falling anymore. Hell, he probably thinks he can fly.
 
And really — who's to tell him he can't?
Stuart Henderson