High Top Mountain Records/ Thirty Tigers/The Orchard
The Ballad Of Dood and Jaunita
Country music has always been story telling music, and Sturgill Simpson has shown himself to be quite the story teller. Perhaps inspired by his foray into acting in Martin Scorcese’s upcoming film, Killers of the Flower Moon, however, Simpson seems to have gone one step further and made a little film of his own, in the form of an album of ten songs, a concept album, called The Ballad Of Dood and Jaunita.
It’s loosely based on Simpson’s grandfather, a man who he says he’d never be half the man of, a beautiful tribute that is still, I believe, mostly fictitious. It’s an album, made with “the same ace musicians who played on last year’s Cuttin’ Grass albums,” something Simpson calls “a simple tale of either redemption or revenge.”
It follows Dood, a man who is “harder than the nails / hammered Jesus’ hands,” and his beloved, Juanita (not a señorita), who gets kidnapped by a renegade. After being shot, Dood leaves his two kids at home and goes out searching for Juanita and ultimately revenge. His trusty companions are his mule, Shamrock, and his dog, Sam, both of which get witty, touching songs about them on the album. It’s fitting that Dood is basically going it alone, the self-made man that he is, but that he also has these emotional ties to his traveling companions.
Over all, the songs are something Simpson calls, “a rollercoaster ride through all the styles of traditional country and bluegrass and mountain music that I love, including gospel and a cappella.” The lyrics are poetic, but to the point, giving only the details necessary to get the story across, and using repetition sparsely, where it is needed to drive a point home. And the music, which creates different moods throughout the story, is perfection, something that you might actually hear in a Western film.
It is all pretty throwback and wholesome. In an age where people, particularly Southern people, are trying to hold onto their heritage, Simpson is rallying around the cause in his own, artistic way. Giving honor to those who came before us, and championing the art of story telling to imbue honor in our forbearers, without all the racist trappings, of course (Dood is notably half Native American, himself).
Simpson has no problem tying the story up in a little bow at the end, though there’s drama throughout. And in an amazing feat, this album was written and recorded in less than a week. It’s a story, I think, that will stand the test of time, written by one of country music’s foremost creators right now. A romance, an adventure, couched in the most beautiful of music, played by some of the best players of our time. As Simpson intended, it plays like an abridged movie, and you grow to love Dood, his animal companions, and cheer him on when he takes the bad guy out. Few people could pull this off with such flying colors as Sturgill Simpson, with his proven integrity, honesty, and talent. I thoroughly enjoyed listening through The Ballad of Dood and Jaunita.