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[I] spent a few days in Nashville recently, & I stopped by the Country Music Hall of Fame only because they moved Hatch Show Print into the building (which is goddamn shame & a half). But as I was walking around to the side entrance I noticed they had a big sign out front promoting a new Bakersfield exhibit, which I thought was terribly ironic. Michael Gray, the exhibit’s curator, recently gave an interview on NPR’s World Cafe & he said that Bakersfield was “maybe not so much a reaction to Nashville, but an alternative to Nashville.” Which is some revisionist bullshit.*
The truth is that when mainstream Nashville is at it’s worst, legitimate country artists have more courage to go their own route. And if you’ve listened to country radio lately, you’ll know that Nashville is easily the worst it’s ever been. So it’s not surprising that underneath all of the country rappers & yankee pop diva cum southern belles there’s an underground country scene that’s as good as it’s been in decades. And at the center of this scene is Kentuckian Sturgill Simpson.
“Won’t hear my song on the radio cause that new sound’s all the rage / But you can always find me in a smokey bar with bad sound and a dim lit stage.”
Sturgill self-released 12 tracks of “bonafide mountain hillbilly soul” last year, & it just might be the best country record that came out in 2013. If his name alone doesn’t convince you, the songwriting certainly will. Stream his whole record over at bandcamp.
* In the interview he also referred to Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music “Modern Sounds in Western & Country Music,” which I could write off as an honest mistake if he wasn’t a curator for the damn Country Music Hall of Fame.