Album | Sturgill Simpson's 2014 album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, along with a voice reminiscent of legends like George Jones or Merle Haggard, earned the Kentucky native a lot of hype as a savior of country, and rightly so. His new, self-produced release, A SAILOR'S GUIDE TO EARTH, is already generating massive buzz, but I don't know if you can even call Simpson "country" anymore, as the songs on this one — many of them essentially letters from a father to his son on how to navigate life — transcend the genre to include soulful and genuinely funky horns and psychedelic arrangements. His languid cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom" ain't too shabby, either.
TV | W. Kamau Bell has tried this TV host thing before, on the frustratingly short-lived 2012-13 FXX series Totally Biased. Perhaps that show didn't succeed because there was too much social commentary and not enough laughs from the thoughtful comedian. His new CNN series, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA, debuted at the end of April and is almost straight documentary, with the occasional comic interlude from Bell. The first episode was a bit gimmicky, as the tall, black comic visited various KKK communities in the Deep South, but a later episode featuring life in San Quentin prison — full of deep interviews with inmates, shocking statistics and poignant personal reflections from the host — showcased the potential of Bell's new project.
Book | The history of the vibrant Los Angeles punk scene of the late '70s and early '80s has been told before, most memorably in the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, but author John Doe adds a must-have collection of writings for anyone interested in the darker musical underbelly of sunny SoCal with UNDER THE BIG BLACK SUN: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF L.A. PUNK. Doe was a prime mover as leader of the band X, and in this book he intersperses chapters of his own memories with those of his peers, including Mike Watt of the Minutemen, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the the Go-Go's, The Blasters' Dave Alvin and more. Together, they create a spirited picture of one of the best eras of modern rock. ♦