I’m not sure any Sturgill Simpson fans were quite done spinning Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 1 yet, but the man went on and put out a whole new volume overnight. Fresh off his fourth Grammy nomination for Sound & Fury, the kick-ass Kentuckian released Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2, his second of two promised bluegrass albums that came out of recording sessions with a spectacular lineup of musicians he’s dubbed The Hillbilly Avengers.
Where the first record spent a lot of its time on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, much of volume 2 takes a deeper dive into his Grammy-winning album A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Reworking that record—which drew so much inspiration from classic R&B and soul—into bluegrass means that many of these songs feel even fresher than the ones from Vol. 1. But, as Sturgill likes to remind us, it was always bluegrass.
Take the new “Welcome to Earth (Pollywog),” the opening track from ASG. It starts out rhythmically closer to the original, with a backbeat rim click and the upright bass mimicking the kick drum—not really your traditional bluegrass groove. Then the banjo kicks in, the mandolin starts chopping, and we’re off to the races.
This is where Sturgill’s arrangements really shine. Like other modern bluegrass artists who are pushing the genre to new limits—Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, Michael Cleveland, Chris Thile—these two albums show how much more there is to bluegrass than just blazing fiddles and chicken pickin’. It’s about the instruments, yes, but it’s also an attitude that doesn’t have to stay tied down to anyone’s expectations.
And, maybe due to it leaning heavily on ASG, which was written after the birth of his first son, Simpson acknowledged that this collection is even more intimate than the first.
“On Volume 2, we recorded everything I was too afraid to do on Volume 1,” he said in a statement. “It’s hard to deny that this is a much more personal record. I was thinking about my kids, my grandfather, my wife.”
Volume 2 also reaches back to earlier Simpson recordings from High Top Mountain (“You Can Have the Crown”—”King Turd” to the old-school fans—is a particular standout) and even his time with Sunday Valley (“Jesus Boogie”). Unlike the first release, he also includes two brand-new tunes. “Tennessee” is a classic country-inspired song about being in Kentucky and missing his wife one state south. “Hobo Cartoon,” which he co-wrote with friend and country legend Merle Haggard before his passing, is all about nostalgia, a fitting theme for a guy who’s clearly drawing from his roots to create these new collections.
Plenty of fans are over the moon about “Bluegrass Stu,” which means whatever he does next will probably be another sweeping curveball. But we’ll always have these records as a reminder of what Sturgill Simpson gave us in our weirdest year.
Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2 is available for digital download now, or you can preorder a physical copy on his website.