The Birchmere

Sturgill Simpson @ The Birchmere - 8/19/14

Sturgill Simpson @ The Birchmere - 8/19/14

For all of the acclaim – and rightfully so – that Simpson’s album Metamodern Sounds In Country Music has received this year, so much attention has been paid to drug references and science fiction metaphysics, it’s easy to forget that at the heart of Simpsons songs, both Metamodern and 2013’s High Top Mountain, lies the same themes that have informed country music since its inception. Loss. Regret, bad love and even worse hangovers; it’s all there mixed in with the brighter sides of life.

Last week, Simpson and his stellar band turned the Birchmere into a dusty, boozy honky-tonk with a heart. Whether a knowing wink to the current climate around Country music, or simply something he just felt like knocking out, a near faithful cover of the Willie Nelson classic “Sad Songs and Waltzes” early on in the set made it clear that Simpson thinks, and thinks A LOT, about not just what his music means, but the tradition from whence it sprang.

The Milk Carton Kids @ The Birchmere - 12/4/11

There’s an old saying that says imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is truly the case then David Rawlings and Gillian Welch should be positively blushing after one listen to the Milk Carton Kids performing songs from their excellent 2011 release, Prologue.

Wearing their influences prominently on their Nashville by way of California sleeves, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan’s songs explore a rich tradition of American folk and country with an awe inspiring commitment to the material and the legacy of their musical idols that came before them. In doing so, the duo manages to come off not just as worshipers at the altar of Rawlings and Welch (and Simon [Paul] and Williams [Hank]), but as worthy heirs to the tradition that came before them. And when the band played the Birchmere last week (opening for Over The Rhine) that tradition was on full display to the delight of the assembled audience.