Review: Sturgill Simpson morphs again on new concept record

This cover image released by Thirty Tigers shows "The Ballad of Dood & Juanita" by Sturgill Simpson. (Thirty Tigers via AP)

This cover image released by Thirty Tigers shows “The Ballad of Dood & Juanita” by Sturgill Simpson. (Thirty Tigers via AP)

“The Ballad of Dood & Juanita,” Sturgill Simpson (Thirty Tigers)

Sturgill Simpson knows how to do a concept record.

His latest, “The Ballad of Dood & Juanita,” proves once again he is a prodigious musical chameleon. It couldn’t be more different than his last album of original material, 2019’s fuzz rock, eardrum-blasting anime soundtrack “Sound & Fury.” In between he recorded a couple bluegrass records covering his own songs.

The new record has more in common with the two most recent records, both released in the past year, and even employs the same top-notch band. Willie Nelson takes a guest turn on the track “Juanita.”

“Dood & Juanita” is a tribute of sorts to Simpson’s grandparents, attaching their names to fictitious characters in Civil War-era Kentucky. A dog, mule, some horses and Shawnee Indians figure prominently, as well.

Pure country, with some bluegrass, gospel and a cappella thrown in for good measure, it almost feels like a radio serial from the 1940s. There’s even sound effects to help move the story along, including gun shots, stampeding horses and a crackling fire. All that’s missing is an overly dramatic narrator.

Simpson said the entire project was completed in five days. It clocks it at a scant 28 minutes with several songs a couple of minutes long or less. While expertly crafted and executed, it’s likely to be remembered more as a quirky, interesting curiosity, rather than a defining statement.

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