The Classic Western Tale by a PostModern Country Boy: Review of Sturgill Simpson’s The Ballad of Dood and Juanita

by N.T. McQueen

Sturgill Simpson’s name floated around in social circles for awhile before I decided to actually listen to his music. Even my brother-in-law told me, “You should check him out.” Being vehemently against the current country trends, I nodded and moved on.

Fast forward and I scroll through Apple Music and remember the name Sturgill. Better late than never. I added his latest album The Ballad of Dood and Juanita as I drove home after dropping the kids off at school. By the time I pulled into our driveway, I felt like kicking my own backside for not listening to what others had tried to tell me.

Not a stranger to inventive concepts, lyrics and styles, the creative pioneer, removed from his iconic Metamodern Sounds of Country Music, does a very Sturgill Simpson tactic. He writes a classic concept album using classic country instruments and follows classic country storytelling tropes. The result is “a story of its time” called The Ballad of Dood and Juanita.

What makes this album as a whole so refreshing is its simplicity. Stripping back the progressive country style, Simpson takes us back to 1862 in a very William Munny-esque saga of a violent, dead eye who is reformed from his ways by the alluring love of Juanita. They start a family but their idyllic country peace is interrupted by the bandit Seamus McClure. Thus sparking Dood, along with Shamrock his mule and his hound Sam on a dangerous quest to recover the love of his life and mother of his children. 

Utilizing marching chants in the “Prologue”, fast paced banjo diddies in “Go In Peace” and “Shamrock”, a south of the border love song in “Juanita”, lugubrious ballads like “Played Out”, and acapella odes in “Sam”, Simpson takes the listener on an old-fashioned journey using old-fashioned melodies with old-fashioned cameos (Willie Nelson actually). Aside from the story itself, it’s nigh impossible to not be transfixed with the captivating tone of Simpson’s vocals much like a natural born orator might seize the attention of an audience. 

Frankly, Dood and Juanita have been non-stop in the car rides and my kids cheer when the chords of “Sam” pluck through the speakers. The saga of Dood and Juanita is worth hearing and, to find out how it all plays out, give it a listen.

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