Sturgill Simpson

The Ballad of Dood & Juanita

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The Ballad of Dood & Juanita Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Following quickly on the heels of his two-part bluegrass excursion Cuttin' Grass, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita finds Sturgill Simpson continuing his retreat to the olden days. A cinematic country & western concept album, The Ballad of Dood & Juanita is set during the Civil War and follows a military veteran called Dood as he tracks down his kidnapped bride Juanita. It's an old-fashioned tale told in an old-fashioned way. Using many of the musicians he did on Cuttin' Grass, Simpson plays an augmented version of bluegrass, taking the time to wander into Latin music and making nods to cowboy tunes. Listen closely and it's possible to discern some progressive politics -- the central figure has left the war between the states to marry a woman who at the very least bears a Latina name -- but The Ballad of Dood & Juanita isn't designed for intense inspection. Written and recorded in a week, it's as swift and easy as a cool summer breeze, its 28 minutes zipping by as Simpson and his Hillbilly Avengers spend as much time picking as they do singing. Its brevity means that The Ballad of Dood & Juanita can initially seem a bit slight, yet it's ultimately quite sturdy, an album that gains its strength from Simpson's dogged dedication to the concept -- there's nothing extraneous in his songs here -- and the impeccable execution of the band.

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