The thing about booking your own shows is that, unless you know that terrain, you never know where you’ll end up. Making their way South and then West to their home-base nashville from the influential Pickathon festival in Oregonthe Nashville-based by way of Kentucky alt.country band Sunday Valley found themselves in Kimo’s Penthouse Lounge , a seedy little joint known for it colorful bar clientele (aka day-long boozers) and it retro-punk clientele inhabits it’s upstairs live-space nightly. This could have been a fish-out-of-water scenario but it turned out to be a great fit.
Before the show I talked to John Sturgill Simpson, (guitar and lead vocals), over the preceding band’s tortured version of “Whipping post.” Simpson discussed the band’s influences and the pros and cons of the genre labeling. “At one festival we were billed as a bluegrass band.” he laughs. And as a fan of fellow Kentuckian Bill Monroe, as well as country music in general, Simpson knows how ridiculous this distinction is and how hard a band like Sunday Valley is to pigeonhole.
Alt.country, cowpunk, XXX, whatever…the band is a natural extension of Bakersfield electrified hillbilly and heavy-rock bravado of Southern rock. Their set ripped into gear with Old Sunshine from new new exceptional release To The Wind And On To Heaven. Though there was the occasional glib “yeeeHAAAAW!” , the crowd was soon gathering at the edge of the stage to bear witness to these brazen outsiders. By the time they slide into the burner Sometimes Wine the black leather and metal-stud crowd had recognized a musical kin of passion and workman-like DIY culture.
Kevin Black (Bass and background vocals) and Edgar Purdom (Drums) laid down solid foundation for Simpson’s slicing, snarling telecaster, He glares out at the darkened crowd like a man that might have something to prove if only he gave a shit. The crowd was eating it up.
The just over an hour-long set packed in 12 songs, including an amped up rendition of the classic murder ballad Pretty Polly and Train 45 which Simpson dedicated to Bill Monroe. That’s what makes Sunday Valley a great band. Like Monroe when he was crating the blueprint for bluegrass, tradition is held in reverence but new territories are bravely exploring sonic terra firma.