Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

9. Sturgill Simpson
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
(High Top Mountain/Sony Music Canada)

There was a brief moment in the late 1960s and early '70s when the urban psychedelic thing got tangled up with traditional country music. Suddenly, the Grateful Dead were covering Marty Robbins murder ballads, Commander Cody was playing tripped-out Western swing and pot-smoking Nashville counter-culturalists were referring to themselves as "outlaws." It was, as most periods of intense cross-pollination are, one of the most exciting and creative half-decades in the history of the genre.

Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson has clearly been studying this now-unfashionable era, looking for inspiration for his sophomore record. But, while in another's hands this throwback approach could have come across as archaic and unworthy, an exercise in retreading old tires, Simpson has taken these old ideas and crafted a postmodern masterpiece. From the sly album title (a reference to Ray Charles' 1962 crossover country record) to his wildly unlikely cover of When In Rome's 1988 hit "The Promise" to his casual dismissal of Christianity as "fairy tales of blood and wine" to his celebration of the virtues of the third-eye insight of LSD, this is a smart, challenging and oddly subversive record by an emerging master. A fuzzed-out trip, as giddy and true as a psilocybin yawn, this is easily one of the best country records of the year. (Stuart Henderson)