Sturgill Simpson’s new album, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, is the No. 1 country record this week, and it debuted at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Released on April 15, the record has already sold 55,000 units. That’s a notable accomplishment for a number of reasons.
Many of Simpson’s fans expected the follow-up to his acclaimed sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, to be a straight-up country album. Instead, he released a concept album that explores soul and funk — an unexpected move, but masterfully executed. The album’s positive reception shows listeners are interested in what the rising star’s creativity and not just the outlaw country music of which he’s become a figurehead.
The album’s recent success may also be an indicator that what many country fans want is fresh music that colors outside the lines of the formulas that have dominated charts in recent years. Simpson has virtually no exposure in mainstream country, particularly on country radio. And while he isn’t the first independent artist to debut an album at the top of country charts, he is part of a growing trend. As Saving Country Music noted, Jason Isbell, Aaron Watson and Blackberry Smoke all had albums debuted at No. 1 without any traction from the mainstream or country radio last year.
Sailor’s Guide may bounce around on the charts over the course of the year, especially if the country award shows bring him into the fold (don’t count on it). Chris Stapleton’s Traveller failed to chart last May when it was released, but after his CMA Awards appearance in November, sales spiked and he’s been dominating the charts ever since. Like Traveller, Sailor’s Guide is a high-caliber album, and it will get a lot of attention as time goes on.
Simpson kicks off his supporting tour in Austin on May 5. If you get a chance to see him live, do it — this guy’s a legend in the making.