Celtic Connections reviews: Sturgill Simpson, Old Fruitmarket | Field Music, Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Fiona Shepherd’s final weekend at Celtic Connections takes her from the American South to the battlefields of the First World War
Sturgill Simpson PIC: Jason Kempin/Getty ImagesSturgill Simpson PIC: Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Sturgill Simpson PIC: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Sturgill Simpson, Old Fruitmarket ****
Field Music, Kelvingrove Art Gallery ****  

The final weekend of Celtic Connections afforded two contrasting opportunities to take in the outer limits of this eclectic music festival at its most rocking.

Kentucky country singer Sturgill Simpson is scorching hot property right now with an appeal which extends far beyond the traditional country music fraternity. Having built an audience for his excellent evocation of the outlaw country sound of the 1970s and 80s, Simpson has truly declared himself an outlaw with the release of his fourth album, Sound and Fury, a freewheeling psychedelic blues rock odyssey which has more in common with ZZ Top than Willie Nelson and his grassroots ilk.

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That Sound and Fury was launched at the San Diego Comic Con accompanied by a 40-minute anime film on Netflix is testament to how far Simpson was prepared to go to p*** off his record label.

This show – cramming two-and-a-half hours of material into a two-hour set in order not to break the curfew – was similarly fuelled by defiance, with Simpson and band launching straight into hardcore rock riffing embellished with unapologetic new wave keyboards supplied by the only man at Celtic Connections wearing sunglasses indoors.

This was a loud affair so it wasn’t always possible to appreciate Simpson’s soulful tone but there were compensatory thrills as the band hurtled through Sound and Fury with no-nonsense momentum through some thoroughly satisfying boogie, onwards into an irresistible groove harking back to the acid blues of Canned Heat and moody psychedelia of Pink Floyd before whipping up some blues rock ecstasy to finish.

Breakthrough album dispensed with, Simpson moved on to a selection of “country music you will probably hate”. More fool anyone who did reject his mighty soul music which encompassed epic southern rock with some proggy breakdowns, Wings-era McCartney testifying soul, languorous acid rock, tight 70s funk and a proper southern soul treatment of You Don’t Miss Your Water before a turbo-charged climax.

There was country music of an altogether more ravishing class the following night, courtesy of Glasgow duo Tenement & Temple, who generated a tender lullaby sound in the grand space of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Monica Queen’s exquisitely pitched vocals showcased country soul power in vulnerability with rapturous accompaniment from her partner Johnny Smillie producing a mandolin-like Tex-Mex trill on guitar.

Headliners Field Music did not fare so well with the challenging acoustic of this “slightly reverby room” but pulled through with the absorbing concept of their current album and show. Making A New World took as a starting point developments in military technology during the First World War and created a suite of lean, angular indie rock songs on social reconstruction after the Great War – the forming of new communities, the founding of the League of Nations, the women’s suffrage movement, the birth of Dadaism and a funky tune on the development of sanitary towels. 
This was followed by a looser selection of songs from their intriguing back catalogue, including a catchy number made up entirely of the ridiculous claims made by President Donald Trump. Fiona Shepherd

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