If he’s not careful, Americana/country star Sturgill Simpson may get himself pigeonholed as a bluegrass artist.
His third album in the past ten months is also the third using top Nashville bluegrass pickers to create a grassy vibe for his original music. The first two of this trilogy, Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 and 2, reprised songs from his deep catalog of songs. This newest, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, keeps the bluegrass theme going, but on a concept album of all new story songs written over the course of two days, and recorded in five.
Simpson reassembled the same group who tracked the Cuttin’ Grass projects – Scott Vestal on banjo, Sierra Hull on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Mike Bub on bass, and Tim O’Brien, and Mark Howard on guitar – who help him generate a sound that combines classic western themes with the bluegrass.
The story surrounds a retired Civil War soldier, Dood, and his wife Juanita, who are separated one day when a bandit rides onto their homestead, shoots The Dude, and spirits Juanita away. But he isn’t killed, and after being tended to by a Cherokee war party, Dood rides off to reclaim his bride. A simple story perhaps, but told in the imaginative and creative fashion that has won Simpson his legion of loyal fans.
The structure consists of a set of ten songs, in which this saga plays out. Sturgill introduces the cast of characters, including Dood’s trusty animal companions, as the tale unfolds.
He says the story came to him while driving back from Oklahoma, where he was acting in Martin Scorsese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon.
“I wrote the story in my mind, who the characters were—including the mule and the dog—and then realized everybody had to have their own song. I decided to set it back in the Civil War era in eastern Kentucky, and use my grandfather as this fictitious figure, sort of a larger-than-life badass who loved to put violence at bay.”
And while the initial impetus for the story came from a photo his wife had sent of a pair of antique long rifles her father had given her, the family connection clicked in and Sturgill was off and running.
“My grandfather gave me the closest thing to guidance I had. The thought of letting him down kept me from going even farther down that stray path than I did as a young man. He was my introduction to country music, he only watched westerns, he was just sort of a cowboy dude—and his name really was ‘Dood.’ He was the kind of man I always wished I could be, but I probably don’t possess the character to ever get there.
I wanted to make something that really honored his memory, and that my grandmother could hear and make her feel like he was still with her—and that he’ll find her again someday.”
Here’s the albums second track, in which Dood is introduced, called Ol’ Dood.
The Ballad of Dood and Juanita is available now however you prefer to purchase music online – vinyl, CD, stream, or download.