Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions

Sturgill Simpson

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Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

A year after he indulged himself in the metallic prog-blues mock-opera of Sound & Fury, Sturgill Simpson abruptly shifted gears for Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1: The Butcher Shoppe Sessions, a collection of his old tunes performed in a traditional bluegrass style. It's possible that the global pandemic of 2020 influenced Simpson's change in direction, but it's just as likely this was a way to reboot himself creatively after he left the major label Elektra for the indie Thirty Tigers. Either way, Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1 benefits greatly from its off-the-cuff approach. Unlike Simpson's previous studio sets, this record isn't built upon a particularly heady concept; it's a straight-up, straightforward bluegrass album, one that follows the contours of the genre affectionately, not rigidly. The love of the form invigorates Simpson, who seems to have a blast running through his songbook, selecting highlights from his previous records while cherry-picking some material from his early outfit Sunday Valley. Once the shock of the album's simplicity wears off, Cuttin' Grass, Vol. 1 provides plenty of pleasures. The band is nimble and fleet, Simpson sings with gusto, and songs that once seemed a little spacy are brought to earth in a garrulous fashion. Part of Simpson's appeal lies in how he blurs genres, so it's a bit ironic that this single-minded collection is one of his best records, but it is: it's an album where the joy in the music's creation is palpable and infectious.

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