Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Sunny Sweeney / Sturgill Simpson / Steve Earle / Corb Lund

Sunny Sweeney: Provoked

(Thirty Tigers)

Another gal gives bros the finger. With Sweeney among the creators of 11 of these 13 songs and Angaleena Presley, Ashley Monroe, and Brandy Clark all helping out for a track or two, the former Republic Nashville wannabe turns her whole album into what Clark or Jessie Jo Dillon or maybe it was Shannon Wright thought to call “a bad girl phase.” And by the way, how marketable a singer is this Natalie Hemby chick with her name on “Used Cars,” which explains her preference for previously owned men? And how about Connie Harrington or even Brett Beavers with their co-writes on a finale called “Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass,” which rhymes with “So if you’re with me, raise your glass/Here’s to working class”? A MINUS

Sturgill Simpson:
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

(High Top/Thirty Tigers)

Exactly how deep you find his songs depends on whether you find Waylon Jennings more moving than George Jones or Willie Nelson and the extent of your attraction to psychedelic drugs and Tibetan or any other kind of Buddhism. “Turtles All the Way Down” is one of the great tripping songs. “It Ain’t All Flowers” is trip-hop country. And when he says love is all that matters I believe he means it. But I didn’t need him to tell me that. I’d just as soon he tell me about coal mining, or what must be an interesting marriage. B PLUS

Steve Earle & the Dukes: Terraplane (New West) Boss of the Blues, a/k/a Single Again (“Baby’s Just as Mean as Me,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now”) **

Sturgill Simpson: High Top Mountain (High Top Mountain) Hard to believe the big bad label guy tried to make him write about outlaws when he loved his daddy so much (“Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean,” “King Coal”) **

Corb Lund: Counterfeit Blues (New West) Fourth-generation rancher and his Hurtin’ Albertans repair to Sun Studios for some analog raw and a show-stopper starring two bags of genetically modified canola seed (“Truck Got Stuck,” “Counterfeit Blues”) *

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