Sturgill Simpson, “The Promise”

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 08.28.14 in Listen to This

No one would describe When In Rome’s day-glo 1988 electropop one-off “The Promise” as a tearjerker, but in the hands of Kentucky songwriter Sturgill Simpson, that’s exactly what it becomes. By slowing the song’s tempo, replacing the burbling keyboards with oaky acoustic guitars and delivering a vocal that’s measured and pained, Sturgill locates a surprising level of pathos at the center of the song. If the original was an apology hollered in a shopping mall, Simpson’s version is a tear-stained letter, written long hand and mailed across the country in a desperate bid for forgiveness.