Somewhere in Honky Tonk Heaven, the great voices gather in the green room, taking their turns on the stage. They say they play for a split of the tip jar, but money is like manna here and the drinks are free. Even the water tastes like cherry wine. No need for a saw bones in a place where no one is sick, either. Nothing hurts, all is well. Here all the bad is washed away, only the good remains, and the thing is the song, the perfect song, singing it just right, just like it lays.
The only problem in Honky Tonk Heaven is the absence of the blues. Oh, they sing the country blues. They sing the blues perfectly every night, but it's like some old person telling you about polio. You know it must have been bad, but it's just an abstraction since you've never seen anybody suffer from it. The blues are an abstraction in Honky Tonk Heaven. The bar isn't smoky, either, and the sound system works just right every night - even the mix in the monitor is just so. Sometimes, when one of the greats are taking their turn at the sweet-smelling mike, he or she might, just for a split second, wonder what it would be like to be back in the imperfect world once more, in a bar full of (or empty of) real drunks, with smoke and smells, in a world with lying promoters and record guys, an overdraft, or even the IRS. No, heaven doesn't work like that, I suppose. They just keep singing, and it's perfect.
Let's reset the story. What if heaven decided that we needed a little perfection down here? In a world of Beyonce and Bieber, fake country and rap music, maybe we need a little bit of old school country perfection. Heaven would need to send an emissary, a voice, to show us what it must sound like up there - give us a glimpse of country eternity. And of course, this voice would have to be on the margins just a bit, he couldn't be a well-known name. He'd play an empty bar in Memphis so well that the bartender would go home telling his girlfriend that there was something different, something special about this one. He'd put out a record so steeped in steel that it was literally dripping. He'd write his own songs and they'd be songs from the outside looking in, not the other way around. He'd come to save us from our commercialized sins, but many of us wouldn't hear him in a world where authenticity is faked with such regularity.
No, that wouldn't happen either. It couldn't. But if it did, if there was a representative of Honky Tonk Heaven right here on earth, he'd sound a lot like Sturgill Simpson, and the record would sound a lot like High Top Mountain. This guy is the real deal. No need for me to go through the songs one by one or try to describe his country gold sound. If you love country music, real country music, just buy the damn record.
High Top Mountain was released on June 11. You can listen to it (and buy it) at www.sturgillsimpson.com.
Mando Lines listens to music a lot and writes about it a little. A lot of the little he writes is on Twitter @mando_lines.