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In this era of sound-byte hit songs and bottom-line corporate demands for same, it's rare that an artist can present a full album on a single, solid theme where all the songs fit together in perfect harmony. Marty Stuart has done it once before, with the extraordinary 1999 release, The Pilgrim. Now he does it again, with the rich, poignant Badlands, a breathtaking tribute to the American Indian, specifically the plains Indians of the Dakota Badlands.
I love theme albums. There might be a track or two that could be a "radio hit," but there doesn't have to be, because the entirety of the album is so much more rich when it's kept together. It's a more common phenomenon in rock music, where you can find such albums as Pink Floyd's The Wall or Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell albums which are really self-contained operas, telling a complete story. But there are a few in country music, and Marty Stuart has done two of them. Back in 1999 he gave us the unequaled brilliance of The Pilgrim, and now, we have Badlands.
I grew up with a father who was a student of this exact period of history Marty takes on, from Wounded Knee to the Little Bighorn. There's never been a time in my life when I didn't know the names of the heroes of both sides, but most history leans, naturally, on the side of Custer and the 7th. Marty's songs tell more of it from the other side. He gives voice to Crazy Horse, Big Foot, Sitting Bull, and the other great chiefs who tried and failed to save their people and their way of life.
Sometimes I think we as a nation go overboard when it comes to being apologists for Manifest Destiny. Political correctness takes us too far in the opposite direction, and I don't see us Westerners pulling up stakes and moving back to Europe in our eagerness to make amends. But I think that remembering, honoring, and understanding those who fought is a step in the right direction. This disc remembers, and tries to understand. [5 stars]
By Nancy Coleman
Intention is everything. In the heart of an artist it stands where cynical, critical notice can cast aspersion. Marty Stuart has made an aesthetic life of living and creating from the heart of intention. Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota is his second album in 2005. His first, Souls' Chapel, was a rollicking, hard country record filtered through gospel music and sacred song. Badlands is no less a sacred endeavor, though it is a far more historical one, and these ballads of the great Lakota tribe are his own. He was guided by the Lakota people and their elders through the true, official record of their existence, not the account in the revisionist American textbooks, and this record has the tribe's blessing. He wrote these songs after being guided through the Lakota lands for a period of years by John L. Smith and the elders of this noble and persecuted tribe who adopted Stuart as family. History, spirituality, legend, the lineage of memory, shame, guilt, and transcendence pass through these songs in equal measure.
Produced by Stuart with John Carter Cash, the set begins with elder Everette Helper's prayer song, and then jolts into the reeling crunch of the title track where country, rockabilly, and folk music meld together into an anthem that reveals both continuity and contradiction and top those whose views are short sighted. "Trip To Little Big Horn" is the story of Custer's Last Stand with a twist: presented as a dialogue with a ghost. Mandolins, acoustic guitars, and bass are tightly knit together to offer a story that is raw, yet elegant and pure. "Old Man's Vision" is a spoken word tale backed with spare, haunting guitar and drum atmospherics. The minor key shuffle that is "Wounded Knee" is as heartbreaking a song as Stuart has ever written; there is no cheap sloganeering or paltry politics herethis song is a prayer. Great pains were taken to make every line, every word, accurate historically, though the songwriter's craft remains intact. Check the track named for the great chief Big Foot, who died at Wounded Knee, with great backing vocals from Connie Smith. And on it goes through the "Broken Promise Land," the sad, folk tale "Hotchkiss Gunner's Lament," to the hard rocking "Broken Promise Land," and the sparse, ballad of outrage that is "Casino." "So You Want To BeAn Indian," is every bit as biting as Bob Dylan's "Hattie Carroll." The field recording that opens "Walking Through Prayers" is every bit as holy and moving a tune as anything on Souls' Chapel, but far more eerie and rooted in a world that is both seen and unseen. The fusing of Christian and Indian spirituality on the nine-plus minute "Three Chiefs" (Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse) may piss some off due to its unabashed view of the songwriter at the crossroads between the two. But it's in an opinion; a belief not in fundamentalist religiosity, but in the large vision of a God bigger than human understanding who loves outside the division of creed, color, or religion.
The set essentially closes with "Listen To The Children," a sprawling rock anthem with Native overtones, strings, and screaming guitars. It's a fitting end, but it's not officially finished until the Lakota medicine man prays over the entire proceeding, blessing, closing, and sending it into the silence of the human soul and to the ears of those who have passed and hear on the wind. Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota is a milestone, a career achievement for Stuart, and an album that is unsettling, provocative, morally instructive, and deeply satisfying musically as a country record that sets the bar higher than it has been set in a long, long time.
By Thom Jurek
With this concept album, Marty Stuart pays tribute to the Sioux culture of what is now South Dakota and to the inspiration of Johnny Cash, whose band once included Stuart and who also developed a strong affinity for American Indian traditions. Though it's hard to fault Badlands' good intentions and pointed social commentary, much of it is stronger thematically than musically. Spoken-word interludes that provide transitions might not bear repeated listenings, while the wordless "Hotchkiss Gunner's Lament" (with Stuart's wife, Connie Smith, providing atmospheric vocals) succumbs to new-age romanticism. Yet music and message achieve a powerful synthesis on "Broken Promise Land," where the urgency of the performance bristles with righteous indignation, and a revival of Cash's little-heard "Big Foot." From Custer and Crazy Horse through Sitting Bull and Wounded Knee, Stuart offers a musical history lesson of tragedy than cannot be ignored or denied and hope that still glimmers.
By Don McLeese
From his earliest days as a picking prodigy with bluegrass greats Flatt & Scruggs, Marty Stuart has spent a lifetime learning from the very best. It was his close friend and mentor, American musical icon Johnny Cash, who introduced Stuart to the ancient culture and modern tragedy of the Sioux Indians. The proud history Stuart absorbed and the deep friendships he has formed over the years within the tribe come vividly to life on Badlands, Stuart's stirring musical tribute to Native America.
But dont be fooled; Badlands is no dry history lesson. Alternately reverent, reflective and rocking, Badlands celebrates Native American culture as only Stuart could.Working with his best band ever guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Brian Glenn, and drummer Harry Stinson, collectively known as the Fabulous Superlatives Stuart captures all the breadth, beauty, and sadness of Indian life through this incredible set of heartfelt songs.
Marty Stuart has been one busy bee in the last eighteen months, producing three very distinct country CDs. The middle of these three, Badlands, finds Stuart traveling to the Great Plains to write the story of the Lakota Souix. The album begins and ends with monotonic drums and chanting in Lakota in between, Stuart fashions songs steeped in Lakota history and set to country-folk melodies. The title track is a rockabilly ode to the Lakota homeland featuring soaring pedal steel and poetic lyrics Somewhere between the wanting and the dying, just beyond the thunder of the gun, the song begins. Trip to Little Big Horn sounds like a Johnny Cash song, quietly intense with Stuarts voice dipping in register almost as if emulating Cash. Elsewhere, Stuart covers Cashs Big Foot, half-speaking, half-singing the verses over a rock melody and pedal steel. Hotchkiss Gunnars Lament is the only instrumental on the album, a haunting acoustic guitar ballad with soft pedal steel and cellos that gives way to the wailing guitars of Broken Promise Land, a honky-tonk number recalling the broken promises made to the Souix at Pine Ridge by President Clinton. Casino and So You Want to Be An Indian address the destitution, poverty, and alcoholism sadly prevalent among the Lakotas today, each a plains ballad with moaning pedal steel. The albums true highlight, however is Walking Through the Prayers, which begins with drums and a spoken Lakota introduction and reaches its climax with only Stuarts mournful voice over echoing drums. Badlands is a song cycle of sorts, telling the story of the Lakota throughout their history and addressing the problems currently facing their people. Stuarts music may be country as always, but Badlands is quite clearly a tribute to the Lakota and their rich history, reverently retold by Stuart to expose their current plight to the rest of the world.
By Tracy M. Rogers
Native Americans remain the most marginalized segment of our society, their history and struggles rarely addressed in mainstream media. In Badlands, country rocker Marty Stuart steps up with a brave examination of the Lakota Sioux -- from the triumph at Little Big Horn to the horror of the Wounded Knee Massacre to the struggles on the Pine Ridge Reservation that are going on right now beneath the media's radar. The thundering, guitar-driven title track describes a plains environment barren of physical adornment but nonetheless capable of nurturing the spiritual resourcefulness that will carry the Sioux to a more prosperous time: "[T]he second coming of the red man is closer than it's ever been," Stuart cries in the key lyric. The sturdy, acoustic-laced shuffle of "Trip to Little Big Horn" lends a dramatic ambiance to a modern-day account of the ghosts still haunting the awe-inspiring spot where Custer's invaders were brutally vanquished. A near-seven-minute opus, "Broken Promise Land," recounts the Clinton administration's unfulfilled pledges to the Sioux nation, against an angry backdrop of shifting musical textures spiked with howling, trebly guitar protestations. The sad plight of today's community is outlined in two meditative, largely acoustic laments, "Casino" and the biting "So You Want to Be an Indian." These precede the ethereal, hymnlike "Walking Through Prayers," in which Stuart evokes the natural wonders of the land from which the Sioux gain strength. A buoyant finale, "Listen to the Children," closes this treatise on an upbeat note. Stirring, provocative, and beautiful, Badlands dares to posit music as a force for positive change. Marty Stuart deserves a medal.
By David McGee
|October 21, 2005|
The ever-affable, '90s hillbilly rocker Stuart, his hits well behind him, has suddenly re-emerged, with two albums in two months and some of the most daring music of his career. On Badlands, Stuart turns his gaze from the blues and gospel of the rural South that permeated its stunning predecessor, Soul's Chapel, westward to the plight of the Native American. There are musical threads as diverse as searing country rock ("Badlands"), acoustic-driven western/folk narratives ("Trip to Little Big Horn," "Wounded Knee"), dramatic recitation ("Old Man's Vision"), Indian percussion and chanting and broad, cinematic orchestration ("Listen to the Children"). It is all woven seamlessly and ingeniously into a colorful garment, equal parts pride, rage, guts and glory. Stuart embraces Native American stories and causes with riveting effect.
By Gordon Ely
|December 23, 2005|
Marty Stuart is now engaged in issuing a remarkable troika of albums. The first, last summer's Souls' Chapel, is a gospel set that reflects his Mississippi Delta birthplace. The third, due next year, is a live bluegrass album marking a return to the music that birthed his professional career. In between is Badlands. It's a ''thematic collection," in Stuart's words, of somber and mournful balladry, light-footed acoustic country, and ringing and furious hillbilly rock. It's also an ethereal instrumental work focused on the history of the Lakota Sioux and the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a place that Stuart has been going to since he first visited as a member of Johnny Cash's band some 25 years ago. For the most part, these snapshots are bleak: ''Badlands" touches upon the events of Little Big Horn and Wounded Knee and the Lakota chiefs who played a part in them. The amazing ''Three Chiefs" offers an account of the deaths of three of them. The CD also provides glimpses of contemporary reservation life (''Casino," ''So You Want to Be an Indian") and unfulfilled promises (''Broken Promise Land," about the visit Bill Clinton made to the reservation in 1999). But alongside these chronicles of tragedy, there's a theme of hope, however improbable it might seem. Stuart sings, ''The second coming of the red man . . . is closer than it's ever been."
By Stuart Munro
|December 23, 2005|
This pair of albums makes it sadly clear why Marty Stuart cant get arrested in Nashville these days: Music this smoothly nuanced cant possibly compete with the two-dimensional pap Music City cranks out. The gospel album Souls' Chapel is enough to bring an atheist to Jesus with the power of its sleek playing, glorious harmonies and pungent mixture of country, blues and rock. And if the sad history of the Sioux is a little too big a subject for Stuart to bite off on Badlands without indulging in some speechifying, his intentions are good, and so are most of the tracks.
By Kevin R. Convey
Recorded at Johnny Cash's cabin studio in Tennessee and co-produced by the late legend's son, John Carter Cash, Badlands makes Marty Stuart's connection to the Man in Black all the more explicit. A former bandmate and son-in-law of Cash's, Stuart also shares the country icon's interest in Native American culture, as evidenced on this 2005 album. The moody production and Stuart's twangy, occasionally rock-inflected arrangements carry these 13 sweeping narratives about the always rich, always complex history of America's indigenous people. The result is a compelling record and a thoughtful addition to the singer's increasingly remarkable body of work.
Marty Stuart has been traveling new musical paths with his recent recordings. His just released Souls' Chapel album of Southern Gospel stylings was a disappointment; but Badlands is just the opposite. This is a really outstanding piece of work.
Badlands is a concept album, not unlike the 1964 Johnny Cash album, Bitter Tears. Both projects were inspired by Native American pride. This Marty Stuart tribute to the Lakota people has been in motion for many years, and ironically is co-produced by Stuart with John Carter Cash, son of Johnny Cash.
Marty Stuart has written songs here about the Lakota people and the fateful American history that surrounds them (Custers Last Stand / Wounded Knee, etc.). While some of this is devoted to native chants; there are also some very poignant message / story songs that have commercial appeal. The title track "Badlands" and "Trip To Little Big Horn," "Wounded Knee," "So You Want To Be An Indian" and the political statement song "Broken Promise Land," are all extremely interesting and entertaining. Listen also for a version of "Big Foot," originally written and recorded by Johnny Cash.
In preparation for the creation of this concept album, Marty Stuart spent time living among the Native American Lakota Tribe while touring sacred sites and the places of the tribe's many tragedies. Stuart's empathy with the Lakota shines through loud and clear on each of the 13 tracks of contemporary country storytelling. In fact, Stuart has been adopted by the tribe and given the name "O Yate O Chee Ya'Ka Hospita" or "The Man Who Helps The People."
Musically, Badlands is a mixed bag of fresh and interesting numbers ("Broken Promise Land" and "Casino") alongside uninspired songcraft housing a compelling story ("Trip to Little Big Horn" and "Wounded Knee"). Stuart trots out familiar, yet valid, gripes concerning America's public policy toward Native Americans on the tired "So You Want To Be An Indian" while perfectly capturing the sound of the West on the brilliant instrumental, "Hotchkiss Gunner's Lament."
Badlands succeeds as an easily-digestible oral history set to contemporary music, and those with an interest in Native American culture and mythology will likely find the disc to be an interesting treatise. However, those seeking a straightforward and catchy country album would do well to look elsewhere in Stuart's vast catalog.
By T. J. Simon
|December 5, 2005|
|Marty's second release in two months makes clear that the man is in the midst of a stunningly prolific creative renaissance. August's magnificent Souls' Chapel found Marty returning to the Mississippi gospel of his youth, while Badlands embraces another topic that's clearly dear to him: the troubled history of the Oglala Sioux Indians of South Dakota. The engrossing result vindicates Marty's lofty ambition and righteous instincts, as Badlands continues a hot streak that just might be the most impressive period of his storied career so far. [4 stars]
By Chris Neal
|December 28, 2005|
In 1964, the late Johnny Cash released an album called Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It was one of country music's first concept records, and one of the most powerful political statements of its time, exposing the shameful manner in which the United States had treated Native Americans. Forty-one years later, Marty Stuart revisits the concept and the politics on Badlands, and sadly, little has changed. Cash (who was Stuart's father-in-law and mentor) described the broader implications of the social dilemma from the Native American's point of view. Stuart takes a similar stance, but focuses on the Oglala Sioux tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation of North Dakota (one of the poorest counties in the U.S.). Mixing Native American accompaniment on spoken word pieces with stellar playing by the Fabulous Superlatives, Stuart delivers a strong but heartbreaking message that describes the plight of the Oglala in stark and painful terms.
But what really stands out is the intense pride of the Oglala, and the love and respect Stuart holds for the tribe. He honors them in "Wounded Knee" and the title track, and points out the shallowness of the government's "goodwill" gestures in "Broken Promise Land."
While most country music fans would rather sing and laugh to racist drivel like Tim McGraw's offensive "Indian Outlaw," the notion that Stuart's work will probably be ignored by radio is a disgrace. Just like the treatment of the Native Americans.
By James Kelly
I want to say this is a GREAT album. Certainly the theme aspires to greatness. I don't think country music does theme albums very well. Perhaps it's because they get little practice. The theme of this CD is the American Indian's great but tragic history. The music is always great but there are time when I feel the music doesn't suit the lyrics. Some of these songs and their themes I think other artists like Chris Ledoux, were he still alive or Garth Brooks or George Strait would have done a better job. Dispite this criticism I give Marty two thumbs up for attempting such an album and the title track gets 4-1/2 stars from me. I can't remember when I last gave a song 4-1/2 Stars. This is an excellent album but it misses greatness.
|November 27, 2006|
This album is the welcome son-in-law, if you will, of Johnny Cash's 1964 Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian.
It exists on exactly the other side of modern country music that Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson live on. Where those flashy characters are trying to revitalize country music by wholly embracing the world outside their expected parameters, Stuart is digging deep into some of the ideas that made the genre so darn universally marketable in the first place, albeit by some of its hokiest "cowboys and Indians" Hollywood players mid-century.
There is nothing cliched in Marty Stuart's respectful yet honest portrait of the Lakota Sioux, none of that "single tear of a noble savage" nonsense. Some lyrics to illustrate this: "You think my life's a story, like a movie on TV. But if you want a taste of hell on earth, come hang around with me."
Like the wonderful encyclopedia of music that he is, Stuart tells the tales of Custer's demise, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Red Cloud. He covers Cash's "Big Foot," which the Man in Black wrote after a chief prophesied he would. That event is documented in the film Johnny Cash - The Man, His World, His Music, and it's amusing to hear Cash say, essentially, that if a chief has a vision you're going to write a song, you write it.
While the music is unspectacular, it's quite good, maintaining an even temper as it moves from historical to modern, as in the song "Broken Promise Land," which detail Bill Clinton's big, empty words on a PR tour.
Casino, meanwhile, has particular relevance in this province of government-sanctioned gambling addiction. As local Hawaiian steel wizard Dwayne Martineau said the other night, "Marty Stuart can be awesome whenever he decides to." Given the one-two punch of this record and Soul's Chapel, Stuart has clearly decided to step up. [3-1/2 of 5 stars]
By Fish Griwkowsky
Concept albums are becoming Marty Stuarts forte.
On both The Pilgrim, his 1999 album about redemption, and Souls Chapel, a gospel set from earlier this year, Stuart did some of his best work by sticking to a central theme.
Badlands is yet another winning concept disc by Stuart, telling the story of the Lakotas, a Native American tribe that lives in the impoverished region of southwestern South Dakota known as the Badlands. Its a story Stuart came to know first-hand in the early 80s while visiting the region as a musician with Johnny Cash.
Indeed, Cash's spirit is felt throughout the project. Recorded at the Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, it was co-produced by John Carter Cash, and includes the little-known Johnny Cash song, Big Foot, alongside 13 Stuart originals.
But while the album bears a kinship to Cashs Bitter Tears tribute to Native Americans from 1964, its strength lies in Stuarts own sense of history and purpose. Feeling an affinity for the Lakota people, Stuart has learned about the tribe over the last two decades with the help of the Lakotas themselves (the CD package includes a portfolio of Lakota photographs taken by Stuart).
Stuarts closeness to the Lakota people has enabled him to tell their story from his own perspective.
In plainspoken words, Stuart relates the Lakotas anguish through outrage (Broken Promise Land and Casino), biting social commentary (So You Want to Be an Indian) and out-and-out heartache (Wounded Knee). Yet he doesnt focus entirely on their misery. Like Souls Chapel and The Pilgrim, Badlands deals with spiritual renewal and hope for a better future. Those moments are where Stuart the storyteller shines brightest.
Of particular note is Three Chiefs, a nine-minute opus that finds Stuart examining religious fundamentalism through Native American icons Red Cloud, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. By visiting the three chiefs in the afterlife, Stuart suggests that Gods vision is larger than the differences in creed, color and religion too often seen by humans. Listen to the Children, the sprawling rocker that closes the album, is the most hopeful moment, alluding to a future when the Native American people experience a renaissance here on Earth.
While the Fabulous Superlatives (guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Brian Glenn, drummer Harry Stinson) spice the proceedings with occasional country and rockabilly licks, Badlands is not a flamboyant effort, instead striving to make us think. The concept works, even though it may confound radio programmers.
By Jim McGuinness
The late film critic Pauline Kael once remarked of Kevin Costner's performance in Dances With Wolves, "[He has] feathers in his hair and feathers in his head." Marty Stuart doesn't elicit such derision with Badlands, his attempt to musically tell the story of South Dakota's Oglala Sioux, but there's no denying the occasional corniness of this well-intentioned but disappointing concept album.
Badlands is, the singer-songwriter says, partly inspired by Johnny Cash's 1964 album, Bitter Tears: Ballad of the American Indian. It indeed has a strong Cash connection; Stuart, a former guitarist for the Man in Black, coproduced the album with Cash's son, John Carter Cash, and even included Cash's little-known "Big Foot" among the CD's original songs. But despite its strong pedigree and some fine performances from Stuart and his band, Badlands is a sobering history lesson that fails to inspire repeated listening.
By Jake Cline
Marty Stuart has long been one of the standard bearers of the more traditional (and good) country movement. He's been making country records full of heart and twang for more years than I can remember, and his pedigree speaks for itself. This year has seen Marty make some bold moves in his career and his personal life. After a life changing experience, he has formed his own record label, Superlatone Records, and released two records. The first is the amazingly honest and soulful gospel record Soul's Chapel, and the second is called Badlands - Ballads Of The Lakota. Badlands is a collection of songs that tell the stories of the great fall of the Lakota Sioux people and the spiritual paths that lay behind many of those stories.
Badlands begins and ends with the voice and throb of the Native American drumming ceremony, setting the tone for the record with an authenticity that might be otherwise overlooked. Stuart sets the stage for his songs in "Badlands", giving a brief geographical and historical overview of the Sioux Nation, espousing the overall hope that is found on this collection of songs. Marty Stuart's trademark sounds are nowhere more clear than on this opening track, the throttling drums of Harry Stinson and Brian Glenn's solid bass guitar underpinning the twanging and crisp guitars of Stuart and the indomitable Kenny Vaughan. "Trip To Little Big Horn" speaks as an overview of the stories that are to be found on the remainder of the record, a starting point for the heartbreak that is to follow. "Old Man's Vision" is a simple tale, told over a heartbeat drumming, the story of an elder of the tribe that foresees the coming pain of his people's massacre at Wounded Knee by George Custer. Johnny Cash's deeply evocative "Big Foot" is recorded here, revealing Cash's depth of feeling for these bold people, a feeling that Stuart continues to carry in his own heart. Robby Turner turns in some amazing steel guitar playing that brilliantly offsets the phenomenal guitar of Kenny Vaughan. "Broken Promise Land" reveals that political America is still making promises to the people of the reservations that are as empty as any ever made in the past. Stuart's true power as a songwriter comes fully to bear on "So You Want To Be An Indian", a song that is at once full of ironic depth and such raw emotion that I find myself lost in it, unable to turn away. This is the true command of a great song, not only does it draw in a modern ear but it reflects the pure power of the traditional Lakota songs, as well. The beautiful "Three Chiefs" pays homage to three of the great leaders of the Lakota Sioux Nation; Red Cloud, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull. This track lays out succinctly what these great men may have had to say to God when they approached the pearly gates after their passing from this world. It is a touching and eerie tale that sends shivers up one's spine while listening. "Listen To The Children" wraps the record with a breath of hope, lifted upon the soft strings and acoustic guitars that can't help but instill a feeling of hope and resigned peace.
The Lakota people have demonstrated their high regard for Marty Stuart by adopting him into their tribe, making him family. The strong connection that Stuart formed with the people of this once great Nation was begun in his early years touring with Johnny Cash's band, and has continued to deepen throughout the years, revealing its depth and sincerity in such facts as the recent marriage ceremony of Stuart to his wife Connie Smith on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Stuart's feelings for these Sioux, his second people, are nothing short of genuine, and these songs are made for education as well as a celebration of the Lakota Sioux Nation. There is a deep pain in these songs, but there is also an earnest hope for the salvation of these great peoples and a greater hope that others will learn from the lessons spoken of herein.
By Embo Blake
Over the course of the past few months, music veteran Marty Stuart has released two distinctly different albums: Souls Chapel, with its healthy dose of harmony, is an old-time country gospel outing, and Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota is a serious concept effort that celebrates the history and culture of the Lakota Native American tribe. Both discs showcase Stuarts tremendous versatility as an artist and help to explain his longevity in an industry that, more often than not, favors youth and superficiality over depth and raw talent.
For the creation of Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, Stuart and producer John Carter Cash spent time living among the Lakota Tribe while touring sacred sites and places of the communitys many tragedies. Stuarts considerable empathy won him an adoption by the tribe, which granted him the name "O Yate O Chee YaKa Hospita" or "Old Guy With Blow-Dried Hair." (Ok, its actually "The Man Who Helps the People"). Musically, the disc is an uneven affair with captivating numbers such as "Broken Promise Land" and "Casino" standing alongside dull tunes that nevertheless house compelling stories ("Trip to Little Big Horn" and "Wounded Knee"). Stuarts criticisms of the American public policy toward Native Americans is valid, but its not until he closes his mouth and lets the instruments speak on the brilliant instrumental "Hotchkiss Gunners Lament" that the message is received.
In short, fans of American country-gospel music peppered with a liberal dose of blues and soul will be enamored with Souls Chapel, and those with a particular interest in the history and mythology of the Lakota Tribe will certainly find something to like about Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota. In any case, everyone should be able to agree that the fact that Stuart released two such wildly different and ambitious albums in the same year is nothing short of remarkable. [2-1/2 stars]
By T. J. Simon
|November 3, 2005|
This is Marty Stuart's second album of 2005 so far. If you'll remember, I think that Soul's Chapel is the finest piece of country music in an extremely strong year for it, so I had high hopes for this one. While those hopes turn out to have been a little inflated, this is still a really great example of what happens when smart and talented people take chances.
Badlands is a concept album about one of the United States' most shameful ongoing plots: the horrifying treatment of Native Americans; particularly, the Lakota Sioux of the Dakotas. Musicians sympathizing with Native American causes is neither revolutionary nor unprecedented -- hell, even that dickhead Ted Nugent has done that. But Stuart has spent a lot of time up there, and actually studied at Oglala Lakota College, and he and his crew have tried very hard to make sure they are dealing in specifics.
This is one of the best parts about Badlands. When Stuart sings about "Wounded Knee", he actually knows what he's talking about. When he does a long spooky song called "Three Chiefs", he can actually sing from the points of view of those chiefs (Red Cloud, Sitting Bull, and Crazy Horse) in detail. This nine-minute track (is this a record in modern country music?) is predicated on each of these Sioux chiefs dying and meeting all kinds of luminaries in heaven (Great Father, Jesus and Mary, etc.), and discussing their lives with them. I cannot think of anything more ambitious this year, country or no, and even though it could have been a little shorter, perhaps, it's dramatic and cool.
Indians are not all just old and dead, here, either. "So You Want to Be an Indian" pokes fun at those who romanticize the whole noble-savage myth: "You think my life's a story, like a movie on TV / But if you want a taste of hell on earth, come hang around with me." "Casino" destroys the myth that Native Americans are swimming in cash now that they've been able to license gambling halls. And the most explicit track, "Broken Promise Land", describes a late '90s visit by Bill Clinton "to the planet of Pine Ridge". Stuart's voice breaks into anger as he describes Clinton's pledges to help the people of "the poorest county in the whole United States" and how they have never been fulfilled. I guess I would have liked Stuart to have mentioned George W. Bush's name alongside Clinton's, considering that Bush could have picked up the ball when he became president, but it's all pretty powerful anyway.
Stuart is an encyclopedia, and the music reflects this. The styles here are all over the place: talking blues on "Trip to Little Big Horn", boogie-rock on the title track and "Broken Promise Land", gentle Willie-and-Waylon waltz on "Casino". The atmospheric and epic instrumental "Hotchkiss Gunner's Lament" (purportedly from the "point of view" of the U.S. soldiers who perpetrated the massacre at Wounded Knee) sounds like a country track from Sigur Ros, especially when Connie Smith starts vocalizing wordlessly. There is also a whole lot of Native American influence. But somehow it all hangs together, even Stuart's cover of his ex-father-in-law Johnny Cash's little-known "Big Foot".
It is Stuart's passion that keeps this project together, but it is Cash's spirit that hangs over it all. There is a sadness here, and a re-imagining of America's self-opinion, that has J.R. Cash written all over it. (Stuart even makes this explicit by getting John Carter Cash, Johnny's son, to co-produce the album.) Stuart's voice is even beginning to sound a lot more like Cash than it ever has before.
This respect works against the album a bit, especially when Stuart becomes a little too respectful about Indian-ism, and conflates gravity with over-seriousness. This album just isn't as fresh as Soul's Chapel, but then again very little else this year is. But it's got heart for days, a relentless ambitious streak, and some tough snarling guitar work. Also, Badlands has Marty Stuart truly cooking on all cylinders. He is the most important talent in country music this year.
By Matt Cibula
|November 16, 2005|
Marty Stuart first dazzled me with his "Hillbilly Rock," tight jeans and Nudie jackets more than a dozen years ago. Since then I've been a fan. I can honestly say theres never been a Marty album I didnt like. He puts so much of himself into each song. Some havent been as widely accepted as others, though. Marty has been quoted to say Universal South gave him a play pen, Crayolas and a budget for this album. Last time somebody did that for Marty, we got The Pilgrim. This album is just as creative, just as artistic. I just hope its embraced as much by the fans with wallets as I believe it will be by the critics.
This is a dark, sad journey of a people searching for closure and hope at the same time. Marty gives us an inspired look at the very soul of that journey.
Everette Helpers Song
The album opens with wind and distant thunder... the sound of a storm coming on. Then a native voice and the sound of hand-beaten drums kick in...
This introduction leads us into "Badlands":
Well written, well performed. Close your eyes and picture the barren, rolling, sandy hills he was singing about. Ive been through this place... he captures it well, calling it a broken promise land where the shadows have eyes and there are voices on the winds. Its just pure, good, country music that tells a story.
Trip to Little Big Horn
Marty paid attention to his mentors. Youll hear the true bluegrass that Lester and Earl fed him as a young teen, and youll hear Johnny Cashs influences mixed in as only Marty can deliver. This story song is sad and bluesy and shows off some mighty fine picking. The lyrics are complicated, but poetic.
Old Mans Vision
Dramatic a cappella poetry told from a Native American perspective and introducing Wounded Knee
Behold, I see a canyon where many souls will die
Be warned: this Cash cover starts off sounding like a rap. But listen on... its melodic, spoken words that lead you to the chorus. If this is rap, so is The Devil Went Down To Georgia. I would no sooner argue that with Marty than I would with Charlie Daniels. This song is so catchy, its almost radio friendly. I hope its released a single. Unfortunately, I think the politically correct coalition of naysayers would prevent that from happening.
Hotchkiss Gunners Lament
An instrumental with a full orchestra. Im normally not a fan of full orchestra in the keep-it-simple world of traditional country music, but this song is so well-written and the strings are so subtle... its simply a tool to build on the emotion of the song. Military-like snare drum rolls and repeated guitar patterns build the drama to make this song tell its own story with no words. According to another review, Connie Smith lent atmospheric vocals to this piece. After reading that, I went back and listened to the piece again. She blends so well with the intent of the song, youll have to listen carefully. Its beautiful to hear pure music for the sake of music, with a complete absence of ego.
Broken Promise Land
A rock ballad that brings the Indians plight in this epic up to date. Its political. Its dark. Its also creative and artistic.
Back to traditional country. Martys voice is perfect for telling this woeful tale. My woman couldnt take my Friday night ways; she left me in search of her better days... Simple guitar patterns backed up by the cry of a sad steel guitar... this song should be homework to study for todays wannabe country younguns.
So You Want To Be An Indian
Slightly sarcastic piece... a be careful what you wish for look at reservation life.
Walking Through The Prayers
Perfect meld of Indian prayer and country music. The are perpetually beating drum marches, barely-there guitars and gentle vocals through this ballad.
Some have prayed a prayer for freedom.
A hopeful prayer for peace and unity.
Listen To The Children
Another sad ballad that depicts life for the youngest of the reservation residents.
The album ends the way it begins, with traditional Indian chants.
In summary, if you are looking for light country entertainment, this isnt going to fit the bill. But if you want to dig deep into a project Marty Stuart has poured his heart into, hear history and plight beautifully and woefully put to music, then this is a must-have. Its the kind of album you listen to with headset on, kicked back, eyes closed.
By Cindy Dong
|October 25, 2005|
Following close on the heels of his blues and gospel tinged Soul's Chapel, the fact that Stuart's new album chooses Native American culture as it's landscape is as surprising the fact that he's still churning out albums at all. As Billboard says of the effort, "The ever-affable, '90s hillbilly rocker Stuart, his hits well behind him, has suddenly re-emerged, with two albums in two months and some of the most daring music of his career." The inspiration for the album is pretty clear, as Amazon.com writes: "With this concept album, Marty Stuart pays tribute to the Sioux culture of what is now South Dakota and to the inspiration of Johnny Cash, whose band once included Stuart and who also developed a strong affinity for American Indian traditions." But while Billboard also gives him praise for the honesty of the result -- "Stuart embraces Native American stories and causes with riveting effect" -- the N.Y. Times finds it all a bit forced. "The subject is too vast," the paper writes. "It forces Mr. Stuart into clichéd language about dignity and poverty and the history of mistreatment of Indians at the hands of white men. It's an impressive gesture for a country singer, or any popular musician. But it doesn't leave much of a mark." It's a sentiment echoed by Amazon -- "Though it's hard to fault Badlands' good intentions and pointed social commentary, much of it is stronger thematically than musically. Spoken-word interludes that provide transitions might not bear repeated listenings, while the wordless 'Hotchkiss Gunner's Lament' (with Stuart's wife, Connie Smith, providing atmospheric vocals) succumbs to new-age romanticism."
By Scott Lamb
|November 15, 2005|
Country singer Marty Stuart has adopted the strategy that if radio won't play his records, he'll just make the music he wants to make.
Earlier this year, he released Souls' Chapel, an excellent disc of Southern country gospel, and the new "Badlands" makes him two-for-two on his Superlatone label.
Stuart takes a page from the American Indian-themed projects of former mentor and father-in-law Johnny Cash, even recording at Cash's home studio in Tennessee with production help from Cash's son John Carter Cash.
"Badlands" pays tribute to the culture and history of the Lakota Sioux and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
For more than two decades, Stuart has befriended and been welcomed by the Lakota tribe, a relationship examined in a documentary aired on CMT during the summer.
On Badlands, Stuart and his well-named Fabulous Superlatives - guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Brian Glenn - sing of Sitting Bull, Wounded Knee and Gen. George Armstrong Custer.
But this is more than a history lesson, as Stuart examines life today for the Sioux at the "Casino," in the "Broken Promise Land" and on the unvarnished "So You Want to Be an Indian."
Stuart, using music ranging from modern country rock to Sioux chants, makes his case and proudly displays his affection for the Lakota people.
Badlands shows that Stuart, many years removed from the teenage picker in Lester Flatt's band, continues to grow as an artist.
By Barry Gilbert
|October 28, 2005|
Part of the impetus for Badlands, by the country singer and songwriter Marty Stuart, comes from his interest in the Lakota Sioux; part of it surely comes from his interest in his mentor Johnny Cash, who made an album called Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian in 1964. (Stuart produced the new album with Cash's son, John Carter Cash.) The album begins and ends with Lakota chanting and drumming, and puts the country-rock sound of his band the Fabulous Superlatives in the middle. And the music is fairly predictable; it's an album that relies heavily on words.
There are suggestions that Badlands might really fight against generalization and describe the specifics of American Indian life now, which seems the only worthwhile strategy for a country singer. But the subject is too vast. It forces Stuart into cliched language about dignity and poverty and the history of mistreatment of Indians at the hands of white men. It's an impressive gesture for a country singer, or any popular musician. But it doesn't leave much of a mark.
By Ben Ratliff
This album begins with Native American chanting and drumming that fades into the title track, "Badlands". Badlands is a story of coming onto the great plains and being fearful of the land and people, hence the term "Badlands." All the songs on the album focus on the clash and senseless slaughter of countless American Indians from various viewpoints. The track "Old Man's Vision", in particular, is a tale of an Elder foretelling the coming slaughter of his people. While other tracks on the album tell stories, Stuart tends to remain true to his country background while he sings the tales of the great conflicts and tragedies that befell the American Indians.
By John Shelton Ivany
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