Kentucky Colonel Sturgill Simpson, the country/rock n’ roll/bluegrass/whatever-the-hell-else musician, released his third album in less than a year today. The Ballad of Dood & Juanita, released on his own High Top Mountain Records, is a concept album Sturg himself described as “#yerpapawscountrymusic”. Not only is it a sonic journey through “papaw country”– with traditional country, bluegrass, mountain music, and all the sounds between–it’s also chronicles the journey of the titular character Ol’ Dood as he hunts down his blue eyed one-and-only, Juanita.
The album was recorded with the same backing band Simpson has used for his last two releases Cuttin’ Grass Vols. 1 & 2, both of which are bluegrass records put out to fulfill a promise made to fans if they helped him raise enough money for a few charities. If anything, the chemistry between the band increased (and that’s really saying something). Make sure you play the album loud so you can pick out the different pieces.
The story kicks off with a military march introducing the characters, simply titled “Prologue”. With just drums, whistles, a chorus of soldiers apparent, and distant sounds of gunshots it’s easy to find yourself intrigued. The next few songs set the stage for the story and find Dood on the road. “One in the Saddle, One on the Ground” shines early with it’s beautiful fiddle and words about a man and his dog going after someone they love. The banjo from the next track, “Shamrock”, reaches back into the last and demands your attention. The percussion throughout the album is wonderful, but it especially shines on “Shamrock”. Let me tell you, a jaw harp trading back and forth with a harmonica, whole time there’s horse clops going on in the background will damn near have you thinking you’re in a Louis L’amour novel.
“Sam” and “Juanita” are back to back love songs that highlight the tenderness of Simpsons storytelling. One’s to a dog and one’s to a lady, both of which deserve them. “Sam” is a call-and-response gospel style song that’ll have you wanting to stomp your foot. “Juanita” is a beautiful, string-forward song featuring Mr. Willie Nelson. The picking on it is reminiscent of Nelson’s 1996 album Spirit.
The album wraps up nicely with “Go in Peace” and “Epiclogue” (sort of). “Epilogue” is a call back to the martial sounds of the opening track. The military cadence starts to close the tale nicely, until you realize there’s one thing left for Dood to do. Like any good Western, he’s gotta get his guy. Listen to “Ol’ Dude (Pt. II), and the rest of the album, and pay attention to the story. I have a hunch you’ll enjoy it.
“He left the varnish off his words, feared no beast nor man
Didn’t wanna end up in his debt, ’cause it’d damn sure get paid
He was harder than the nails hammered Jesus’ hands
He was the one they called Dood
Son of a mountain miner and a Shawnee maiden
Son of a mountain miner and a Shawnee maiden”
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