Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions

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August 31, 2010

In the liner notes for his new album, Marty Stuart beautifully describes a moving, virtually spiritual experience during Hurricane Katrina, when a train roared past where he stood, five miles outside of his southern boyhood home. “Every place I’ve ever been, most everything I’d ever done and seen seemed to have been ripped from inside of me and hauled off on a northbound, backwoods Mississippi ghost train.” It was his epiphany, when he knew that he was ready to write again, and “it was long past time to play some hard-hitting country music.” Thus was born the idea for his latest project, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, on Sugar Hill Records–his first on the label since Busy Bee Café in 1982. And with traditional country music teetering on the precipice of extinction, Stuart–ever the music preservationist–feels even more so that the timing of this record is right: “It’s the music I most cherish…It’s too precious to let slip away.”

RCA’s Studio B in Nashville is hallowed ground, where so many legendary country greats laid down their tracks over the years. Now a museum, Stuart got special permission to record in the room–with its sought-after sonic warmth–where he first recorded when he performed with Lester Flatts at age 13. Choosing to make his record there graces the project with an historical authenticity that could be found nowhere else. His respectful reverence for those musicians that went before him is apparent, yet Ghost Train is not a hopeless re-hash of the past. Stuart’s twang-less vocals, coupled with the album’s energy, give a contemporary edge to his take on tradition. He’s Manuel and Nudie suits, but his hairstyle is all modern–gelled and spiked.

Stuart’s band, The Fabulous Superlatives, and guest performers like steel player-extraordinaire Ralph Mooney, add authentic seasoning throughout, helping to make the album work as a whole, durable quilt, as opposed to mismatched swatches of fabric loosely stitched together. The broader statement made by the master of vintage sound is, “honor thy roots music.”

Of the 14 tracks, clearly more than half are stand-out confections. A cover of the classic, “Country Boy Rock & Roll” features priceless, high-speed picking by both Stuart and Kenny Vaughn. “Hummingbyrd” is an original Stuart instrumental tribute to guitarist Clarence White, where he performs on White’s own B-Bender guitar. The nearly acoustic “Hard Working Man” is underscored by a most topical lyric: “What will become of the working man/With honest sweat on his brow/Is the nation that raised him to build it/Gonna turn its back on him now.”

All the ballads are co-written by Stuart with wife Connie Smith, who thankfully joins him in the duet, “I Run to You,” produced with a string arrangement and a sweet, music-box guitar outro. A Red Sovine-style original recitation song by Stuart, “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” is a piece of theatre, and songs like “Little Heartbreaker” glisten with Mooney’s silvery, steel guitar stylings.

A starkly, stunning piece is “Hangman.” There’s no fancy guitar work or shimmer of rhinestone glitz; it’s simply a restrained delivery and production, allowing Stuart’s vocal to have the spotlight, and telling the story of a prison executioner’s tortured soul. The fact that it’s co-written with Johnny Cash, and is the last song ever written by the Man in Black, who died four days later, just adds to the solemn importance of the piece. This co-write meeting was the last time Stuart saw his one-time father-in-law and friend. And he sings the lyric with the dignity of a last performance: “I killed another man today/It’s hard to believe/Well I lost count at thirty–and I’ve grown too numb to grieve/The bottle helps me cope when I lay down at night/And when the dope rolls through my veins it all fades out of sight.”

It’s conceivable that Stuart recorded a bunch more, and had a hard time culling the pack. Determined to have a little bit of everything in an album, he’s got it covered, from Bakersfield to the Delta, from classic covers to newly-penned material, from iconic themes about trains and prison to blue collar workers. One less ballad with the lyric phrase “hard to bear” could have been managed; but being the musicologist that he is, he strives to put in one record an honest slice of his own traditional country for the annals of American music history–and he delivers. [4-1/2 out of 5 stars]

By Janet Goodman

American Profile

July 25, 2010
Stuart keeps the flame of traditional country music burning bright with this rousing collection of cherry-picked gems from yesteryear alongside 10 originals that channel the sound and spirit of his honky-tonk heroes. The whole experience is a masterful hillbilly-hoot salute, and standouts including "I Run To You," a dreamy duet with his wife Connie Smith and "Hangman," a potent tale about an executioner's grim job written by Stuart and Johnny Cash just days before the Man in Black's death in 2003.

By Neil Pond.

American Songwriter

August 24, 2010

As the most devoted curator of the institution of country music – writing books, hosting a weekly television show, collecting memorabilia — Marty Stuart has dedicated his life to the preservation of the music he has spent his life playing. Given his standing, Stuart is one of the few musicians entrusted with the keys to Nashville’s famed RCA Studio B, the legendary room that is operated as a tourist attraction by the Country Music Hall of Fame where Stuart first recorded with Lester Flatt as a 13-year-old. Not surprisingly, Stuart has used that opportunity to commune with the ghosts who hang around the mixing board.

Inspired in part by Stuart’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, Ghost Train is an album spread across a variety of locales and over a rowdy cast of down-and-out drunks, heartbroken lovers, and lonely ex-cons that are torn from the canon of great country archetypes. And while playing spot-the-reference is an entertaining exercise, it only tells half the story. Sure, it’s hard not to hear Charlie and Ira Louvin harmonizing behind Stuart on the hymn-like “Drifting Apart” or catch echoes of Don Rich and Clarence White in the flurry of riffs fired off between Stuart and Kenny Vaughan on the spirited “Hummingbyrd.” But few artists can sew together these pieces as seamlessly as Stuart and his impeccably tight Fabulous Superlatives, and the album is as much a tribute to their mastery of the last 50 years of country music as it is a meticulous reanimation of another era.

Split between heartbroken ballads, traditional cuts, and twanged-out rockers, Stuart’s sixteenth studio release is a departure from his recent spate of theme-centered albums, though he remains, first and foremost, a craftsman. Opening cut “Branded” is the brand of hillbilly rock that earned Stuart his name as a solo artist, and his cover of Warner Mack’s classic “Bridge Washed Out” and Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” are similarly run through the glitterbilly machine. If Stuart can lay claim to a signature sound, this is it, and he and the Superlatives reserve their most vivid showmanship for these moments.

Just as impressive is Stuart’s soft touch with “A World Without You,” a bleary-eyed ballad co-written with Connie Smith, and “I Run to You,” a string-touched ode to devotion and commitment where Stuart and Smith’s voices blend beautifully on a sweetly sighing chorus. Similarly moving is “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” a surreal spoken word tribute to the song’s titular character in both style and content, with Wagoner sent back to earth by God to give a conflicted man the courage to go back to his wife. And while the album clearly favors timelessness over timeliness, Stuart captures the current zeitgeist with “Hard Working Man,” voicing the frustrations of those who lost their livelihoods as their jobs went overseas. Like Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” or John Rich’s “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” it’s a simple and straightforward anthem, one that is disarming in its everyman immediacy and potent in its threadbare arrangement.

Best of all is “Hangman,” a song written with Johnny Cash only four days before the legend passed away that brings to life a haunted executioner as he tries to shake off the memories of all of the men he led to the gallows. With little more than an acoustic guitar and a darkly enveloping atmosphere hanging over Stuart’s rich baritone, it’s a track that would have fit perfectly on any of Cash’s American Recordings albums, and it’s the sober centerpiece of an album that walks a balance between joy and despair.

Ultimately, Ghost Train doesn’t quite measure up to the most memorable albums in Stuart’s catalog, as it lacks the overriding conceptual pull and stylistic unity of his greatest works. That said, it’s a thoroughly listenable and endlessly replay-able affair, a snapshot of where Stuart is as a performer and proprietor of traditional country music in 2010. He’s not quite a museum piece yet, but albums like Ghost Train prove that Marty Stuart has earned the right to stand beside his heroes. [3-1/2 out of 4 stars]

By Matt Fink

American Twang

August 2, 2010

In the press release sent out with the advance copies of Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, the venerable Marty Stuart says, “I found traditional country music to be on the verge of extinction. It’s too precious to let slip away. I wanted to attempt to write a new chapter.”

Stuart is right that it’s too precious to let slip away, but immensely wrong in claiming that it’s on the verge of extinction—and anointing himself as its savior is a bit presumptuous when there are, in fact, legions of talented artists (in Nashville, in Austin and all over the world) working to keeping the various (and numerous) strands of traditional country music alive.

“New chapters” are written every day by artists like Dale Watson, Miss Leslie and Brennen Leigh (just to name a few), so Ghost Train is no salvation record—just one cog in gear that’s already turning, and one more spoke in a wheel that keeps rolling along.

Of course, Stuart is in typically fine technical form here. One of country music’s most talented and ambitious artists—as well as one of the genre’s preeminent historians—he demonstrates a deep dedication to this project’s mission by treating these 14 classic-sounding songs with due reverence, while performing them with expected deftness and masterful precision.

And when it comes to production, Ghost Train (Engineered by Mick Conley, who also worked on Kathy Mattea’s Coal), possesses a crispness that you just won’t find on the underfunded records put out by many of traditional country’s most noteworthy purveyors—most of whom have tiny recording budgets and limited access to studio space and equipment.

Certainly, if traditional country music needed saving, Stuart wouldn’t be the wrong man to turn to. His grasp on the collection of styles he presents here as “traditional country” is firm; had album opener “Branded” been released 35 years ago, it might well have been remembered today as one of the “outlaw” era’s finest, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more precise example of the country recitation than “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.”

“Branded” was written by Stuart, but it sounds like it was clipped from the Waylon Jennings songbook. Ultimately, that’s emblematic of a weakness found throughout Ghost Train. As well as Stuart performs each of these tracks, they often sound more like very specific attempts to recreate a certain type of song than they sound like outstanding country songs in and of themselves. Indeed, these songs often sound like the ghosts of songs before, not new creations with spirits and souls of their own.

The album features a train song, a spiritual talker, a patriotic ode to “the working man” and a mournful heartbreak ballad, among other canonical themes, but each of these is more notable for the statement it makes about a particular slice of country music history than as a new piece of music.

That fact leaves Stuart often sounding like the late man to the party. Despite his stellar technical execution, he never really takes full ownership of these songs. “Branded” leaves us wishing we could hear Jennings or Haggard sing it, while all we can hear in “Hangman” is the songwriting voice of Johnny Cash.

Stuart co-wrote “Hangman” with Cash just four days before the legendary singer died, and it’s easily the highlight of Ghost Train. The story of a hangman (executioner) who can’t remember the number of men he’s put to death (and who uses alcohol and “dope” to numb the pain and guilt of doing so) the song is more than a notch above the rest of the album’s material. Cash’s influence is palpable in the clear story, engaging character and deeply resonant hook.

Those elements are largely missing elsewhere on the album. Perhaps lost in matters of style and process, Stuart’s songwriting on Ghost Train fails to provide much that’s especially memorable or engaging. And clocking in at nearly 45 minutes, it begins to bore around the halfway point.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the halfway point is “Hangman,” which leaves everything after sounding elementary by comparison.

One thing that is never boring about Ghost Train is the incredible steel guitar work featured throughout the album. Performed, at various points, by an all-star cast of Ralph Mooney, Gary Carter, Tommy White, Robby Turner, Kayton Roberts and Fred Newell, the depth and quality of steel here is second to none.

Ghost Train isn’t likely to be the album that single-handedly revives mainstream interest in classic country music styles and themes, but it is an enjoyable addition to the absolutely not-extinct line of modern, but traditional-sounding country records—one that sounds better than most, though it contains only a couple of truly outstanding songs. [3-1/2 stars]

By Jim Malec

Americana Review

December 16, 2010

If the different branches country music could spawn a love child, I'm pretty sure that Marty Stuart would be the offspring. It seems like Marty Stuart has been around this genre forever, and in a way, he has. It's tough to find an artist who can tell the stories that Marty Stuart can. He got his start touring and playing bluegrass with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as a teenager in the 1970's, before moving on to mainstream country music in the 1980's. He was once married to one of Johnny Cash's daughters, and broke through with chart success and significant album sales from the late 1980's to the mid-1990's.

While Marty hasn't been a force on the mainstream country music charts in recent years, he remains one of country music's most important figures. He is a member who appears regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. A devout historian of the music, over the years Marty Stuart has amassed quite possibly the most impressive collection of artifacts relating to the history and origins of country music outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame. His collection is so great, he often receives calls from the Hall to donate items for display. When Marty has the great honor of inducting a new member to the Grand Ole Opry, you can feel the deep appreciation, love and affection that he has for the Opry and the genre as a whole.

With his charting singles and recording for major record labels behind him, Marty now freely records the material he wants to record and promotes all the branches of country at his leisure. With his recent Sugar Hill Records release, Ghost Train -- The Studio B Sessions, Marty makes a triumphant return with this excellent project. The album has got Marty back on the radio with Americana stations gladly playing cut after cut from this magnificent album. This project is vintage Marty. He successfully marries the most traditional themes of country music, such as love, death, prison and hope. If you've read my Taboo Topics post, this album covers everything I said was lacking in modern country music. This album is a throwback to the old days and it sounds as fresh and modern as can be.

Marty is one of the rare artists who uses his touring band, The Fabulous Superlatives, in the recording studio. The result is an authentic live-sounding album. Marty and the Superlatives are all class A musicians, true experts in their field. Ever the historian, Marty recorded the album in the historic RCA Studio B which is the home to some of the greatest and most important recorded music in history. Elvis Presley recorded there. So did Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride and on down the line. Marty Stuart successfully restores the old studio to its former glory and its original purpose. RCA Studio B is now primarily a tourist attraction, part of a tour package where fans can walk through following their time viewing the Country Music Hall of Fame.

There are many key cuts to this album. The lead track, "Branded," brings back memories of some of Merle Haggard's earliest hits such as "The Fugitive" and "Sing Me Back Home." "Bridge Washed" out is another highlight for me, all musicians are at the top of their game on this track and Marty's voice is as strong as ever. There are also many poignant moments on this record. The great steel guitar player who gave Waylon's records such a unique sound, Ralph Mooney, contributes on three tracks, most notably the song he co-wrote, "Crazy Arms." "Crazy Arms" was a monstrous hit for the legendary Ray Price. Marty performs with his wife, Connie Smith, on "I Run to You." Perhaps the most important track on the album is "Hangman." Marty Stuart co-wrote this song with Johnny Cash. As fate would have it, "Hangman" is the last song that Johnny Cash would write, as he passed away shortly after its completion.

Marty Stuart continues to impress. He may not have as many radio hits as most of his contemporaries who came along in the 1980's/1990's. But make no mistake. His contribution to country music, Americana, roots, bluegrass and alt-country and the development of those genres cannot be measured or understated. He is an important figure in this history of this music. The day will come where the Country Music Hall of Fame will not be calling just to borrow some the artifacts in his extensive collection. They will be calling to tell him that he will be taking his place alongside his peers, friends and heroes as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Awaiting The Flood

August 24, 2010

Recorded at the legendary RCA Studio B in Nashville where, at the tender age of 13, he played mandolin and recorded with Lester Flatt, Ghost Train is Stuart’s return to hard-hitting country music. Far from a sentimental look back or a retro-country album, this is a modern-day icon adding to an already impressive musical structure atop the foundation of past masters.

Stuart is well known as a walking encyclopedia of country music’s history, and on Ghost Train he displays his supreme talent in all styles, and his love for this music.

There’s the honky tonk twang of “Little Heartbreaker (The Likes of You)” co-written with the amazing and legendary pedal steel guitarist Ralph Mooney, and electric guitar virtuosity on the instrumental “Hummingbyrd” (Stuart’s guitar was once owned by former Byrd Charlie White), a whipsmart bluegrass mandolin on “Mississippi Railroad Blues” and a heartfelt duet with his wife Connie Smith on “I Run To You.”

Other gems are the Ray Price classic “Crazy Arms” (also co-written by Mooney, who struts his pedal steel skills), “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” (he and the late Wagon Master were close friends), and “Hangman”, which Stuart wrote with Johnny Cash just four days before Cash died.

“I’m always on the prowl for the kinds of recordings that can inspire and potentially make a difference,” Stuart says. “What inspires me now, is traditional country music. It’s the music I most cherish, the culture in which I was raised. It’s the bedrock upon which the empire of country music is built, the empowering force that provides this genre with lasting credibility. It’s beyond trends and it’s timeless. With all that being said, I found traditional country music to be on the verge of extinction. It’s too precious to let slip away. I wanted to attempt to write a new chapter.”

Marty Stuart is just the man to write this new chapter. He penned over four pages in the CD’s liner notes about his experience on a dark and deserted train depot near his boyhood home in Philadelphia, Mississippi back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast just to the south. His account of seeing his life flash before his eyes will have the hair standing up on the back of your neck. “Just like postcards from the depths of my soul: love, regret, whiskey, cheating, pills, salvation, redemption, divorce, failure, success, rhinestone suits, Cadillacs, Fender telecasters, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, the Grand Ole Opry, Folsom Prison, hearrtaches, Connie Smith, Ira Hayes, My Mama, my Daddy, my sister, the Staple Singers, Jesus Christ, the summer of 1964 . . . cotton and squash on top of Johnny Cash’s casket, Merle Haggard’s phone number . . . .”


August 11, 2010

If there were a few more like Marty Stuart making records in Nashville at the moment, country music wouldn’t be in the stagnant state it’s in.

Marty started out as a teenager playing mandolin with a pillar of the bluegrass establishment, Lester Flatt, and went on to serve as the sideman of choice for those who wanted someone who could play but also had a bit of spice; his rock’n’roll tendencies are never far below the surface. His 1992 single "High on a Mountain Top" is a sublime example of how he could take a classic and pull it right up to date without compromising any of the song’s best qualities.

He has an impeccable CV then, a complete understanding of what makes good country music sound right, and just enough rebelliousness to keep it fresh. He set out to make this album saying: “I found traditional country music to be on the verge of extinction… I wanted to attempt to write a new chapter.”

It’s a pretty good attempt. He recorded in RCA Studio B (usually prefaced with “The Legendary”). It was there that the great recordings of Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and so many others were made. And Marty’s record sounds like a Studio B recording; no-nonsense backing, heavy on the steel guitar, songs of prisons, lost love, the life of the hangman (written with former father-in-law Johnny Cash, days before he died), it evokes beautifully the feel of straight down the line, late-50s honky tonk country.

Slight problem: there are a lot of Marty’s songs here. They’re okay, but a few covers wouldn’t have gone amiss. He has the spirit right, but these are not going to be classics. He doesn’t have the voice of George Jones, the instrumental mastery of Vince Gill or the songwriting skill of Willie Nelson, but he makes a good fist of it, and is – and has always been – sincere in his desire for the values of traditional country music to be maintained.

Despite a number of breaks, critical acclaim and major record contracts, it’s never quite clicked for Marty. Ghost Train is unlikely to change this, but should be celebrated for what it is: a very accomplished album of its kind.

By Nick Barraclough

Bluegrass Notes (Blog)

August 23, 2010

“What inspires me now is traditional country music,” Marty Stuart says in a news release for his new Ghost Train album. “It’s the music I most cherish.” That said, don’t expect to find any bluegrass on here.

Sure, Stuart got his start as a 13-year-old mandolin player with Lester Flatt in 1972. And he’s made a few bluegrass albums through the years since Flatt’s death in 1979. But this isn’t one of them.

The songs feature drums, electric guitars, steel guitars, pianos, violins, cellos and violas — not banjos, fiddles and mandolins.

Still, bluegrass these days is leaning closer to traditional country music than modern country music does.

And the more liberal (in terms of music) bluegrass fans will probably enjoy Ghost Train.

The strangest — and maybe the best — song on the album is Stuart’s “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” a recitation about a homeless man whose life is turned around when he meets the ghost of Porter Wagoner while sleeping on Wagoner’s grave.

Stuart, incidentally, wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 14 tracks, including “Hangman,” a song he co-wrote with Johnny Cash, four days before Cash’s death. The song tells of an executioner who uses drugs and liquor to dull the pain of killing people.

The album features a duet with Stuart’s wife, Connie Smith, on the ballad, “I Run To You,” which they co-wrote. The two also co-wrote the ballad, “A World Without You.”

There are three instrumentals — Stuart’s “Hummingbyrd” and “Mississippi Railroad Blues” and Ralph E. Mooney and Charles P. Seals’ “Crazy Arms.” Mooney plays steel guitar on the tune as well as on several of the other tracks.

“Hard Working Man” is a song about the Great Recession, when jobs are taken away from Americans and shipped overseas.

“Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten” finds a man at the depot where trains no longer stop. He’s broke, his woman is gone and he’s ready to ride a ghost train.

It’s the kind of album Nashville should be making more of, but isn’t.

By Keith Lawrence

CMR Nashville

September 9, 2010

This one sparkles -- and not just because of Stuart's jacket. A longtime advocate for traditional country music, Stuart lays his striking vocals over glorious work by guitarist Kenny Vaughan and legendary steel guitarist Ralph Mooney. Studio B, where numerous stars for RCA Records recorded their classics, serves as a perfect backdrop for this innovative nod to the past. Stuart wrote a lion's share of the songs here, including a couple of heartfelt numbers with his wife, Connie Smith.

Key tracks: "Crazy Arms," "Little Heartbreaker (The Likes of You)," "I Run to You"

Country California

September 8, 2010

If you haven’t been finding enough good traditional country music to suit your fancy lately, you haven’t been paying much attention. There’s plenty of it coming out all the time. Here are two of my recent favorites:

Recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B with a band built around his Fabulous Superlatives, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions is ostensibly Marty Stuart’s love letter to traditional country music, but it also serves as a handy distillation of everything lovable about the artist himself.

After all, who else cedes precious album time to let legendary steel guitarist Ralph Mooney pick and slide his way through “Crazy Arms” more than a half-century after Ray Price made it a country standard? Or digs up, and reanimates (in rocking Marty Party fashion), forgotten gems like Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock and Roll,” and Warner Mack’s “Bridge Washed Out”?

About the worst thing you can say about the Stuart originals that make up the rest of the album is that they’re better echoes of past classics than classic compositions in themselves. Yes, there’s a lot of Haggard in “Branded,” a lot of the Louvin Brothers in “Drifting Apart,” and a lot of Cash in “Hard Working Man.” Of course, the recitation “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” is positively haunted by the spirit of its namesake. But that’s sort of the point: Stuart is paying tribute. His affection is palpable, and the songs and performances (including a duet with Connie Smith!) are routinely excellent, if not classic.

While “Hangman” (cowritten with Johnny Cash just days before he died) is indisputably the showpiece, the rest is not that far behind. Altogether, Ghost Train is a rich, immensely rewarding collection that radiates love and affection for real country music. It’s up there with The Pilgrim as one of my favorite Marty Stuart albums.

By C. M. Wilcox

Country Standard Time

September 8, 2010

Marty Stuart's new album has been called his love letter to classic country music. Inspired by the music he grew up loving, Stuart set out to show that that music still had vitality. And he more than succeeded. To be sure, the music on this album isn't really any different that of Stuarts' last all-country offering, 2003's Country Music. Here Stuart returns to his roots and brings along some friends, one of those being his wife Connie Smith, who duets with him on the fantastic "I Run To You." Another friend is steel guitar player Ralph Mooney, former steel player for Waylon Jennings, Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. His distinctive playing brings an unmistakable sound to the songs such as "Little Heartbreaker (The Likes Of You)." A special treat is the minute and a half instrumental version of Mooney's hit "Crazy Arms."

Recorded in the legendary Studio B, where so many classic and pivotal country records were made, the album sounds like an update of that country sound made famous by Merle Haggard and Porter Wagoner, both of which are paid tribute here, Haggard with "Branded" and Wagoner with the recitation "Porter Wagoner's Grave."

One would be hard-pressed to pick a standout track as there isn't a weak song in the bunch. From hard-driving cover of Don Reno's "Country Boy Rock And Roll" to the instrumental "Hummingbyrd" to "Hangman," co-written with Johnny Cash just four days before his death, Ghost Train fulfills its promise to show that classic country music is alive and well.

By C. Eric Banister

Country Universe

August 9, 2010

As a virtuosic instrumentalist in both mandolin and guitar, Marty Stuart was one of the very talented artists whose peak occurred in the early nineties. While his chart success wasn’t as numerically present as many of his counterparts, his reverence for country music and its history has turned him into one of the most respected nineties country artists today.

Stuart has explored several facets of country music over the years, including rockabilly, traditional, and honky tonk. Now, he is paying his respects to traditional country music with his latest release called Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, which will be released on August 24th. Along with 12 other quality tracks, the album includes a haunting song that Stuart wrote with Johnny Cash just four days before Cash’s death. From the perspective of a man who hanged people for a living, the song is called “Hangmen.” The other standout song is called “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.”

As one of the summer releases that I’ve most been looking forward to, I am pleased to report that the album does not disappoint.

By Leeann Ward

Country Weekly

August 6, 2010

Marty Stuart’s latest offering is steeped in long-established country traditions and sounds. “Country Boy Rock & Roll” mixes a rhythm reminiscent of a classic Johnny Cash tune with early-’90s country guitar licks. “A World Without You,” with its straight-ahead bass line, recalls George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You).” There is a lush duet between Marty and wife Connie Smith, “I Run to You” (not to be confused with Lady Antebellum’s hit of the same name), a cover of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” and a tribute to country stalwart Jimmie Rodgers on “Mississippi Railroad Blues.” The woeful “Drifting Apart” is a John Conlee-style ballad, gracefully punctuated by weeping steel guitar and earnest background vocals. The album’s most haunting songs are also the most enchanting, including the spiritual “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” and “Hangman,” which Marty wrote with Johnny Cash only days before the iconic singer’s death. Ghost Train is a captivating achievement. [4-1/2 stars]

By Jessica Phillips

Creative Loafing

October 26, 2010

THE GOOD: Marty Stuart is the real deal in a country music landscape inhabited by what Unknown Hinson calls "steroid eatin' pretty boys with cowboy hats and shaved chests." This release is a tribute to the '60s glory days of country, with Stuart returning to the scene of his first recording session at 13 with Flatt in RCA's Studio B, where stars including Elvis, Waylon and Eddy Arnold recorded. "Branded" sounds like Merle Haggard backed by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos with Waylon on bass. Stuart, who spent six years in Johnny Cash's band, says it took him awhile to have the heart to sing "Hangman," written with Cash just four days before his death in '03. "Porter Wagoner's Grave" is a spoken-word tribute in the style of Tex Ritter's "Hillbilly Heaven." "Hard Working Man" is about his dad getting fired after 21 years at a factory. "I Run To You" is a duet with wife Connie Smith underscored with weepy pedal steel. Although Stuart's principal instrument is mandolin, he plays guitar on all but one cut, stepping out on lead electric for the instrumental "Hummingbyrd," a tribute to Byrds guitarist Clarence White, played on White's signature guitar.

THE BAD: That more country artists don't adopt this style.

THE VERDICT: This is Stuart's masterpiece. Classic country fans will keep this one close at hand while they pray for its rebirth.

By Grant Britt

The Dallas Morning News

August 24, 2010

Respected traditionalist recorded this haunting set of country gems at Nashville's famed RCA studio.

By Mario Tarradell

Enjoy The

January 5, 2011

Marty Stuart. He's a musician, cultural historian, collector, photographer, and prodigal son-in-law. All these facets of Marty Stuart come together on Ghost Train, which makes it a pretty darned brilliant piece of work. For those readers unfamiliar with Stuart, his curriculum vitae reads like the history of Americana music. His first regular pro gig, at the ripe old age 13 was playing mandolin and guitar with Lester Flatt. He stayed with Flatt until 1979 when Flatt passed away. Stuart then joined legendary fiddler, Vassar Clements, playing on sessions with Doc and Merle Watson, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and Billie Joel. In 1980 Stuart met Johnny Cash, and Cash invited him to join his band on guitar. After six years playing with Cash, Stuart went out on his own and signed a recording contract with CBS that yielded only one album, Marty Stuart, in 1986. In 1989 Stuart released his first album on MCA, the first of four gold albums made for that label. During this period Stuart developed his "Marty party" hillbilly rock brand of commercial country that drew heavily from honky-tonk and roots music for inspiration. Since 2000 Stuart has released albums on his own Superlatone label.

Ghost Train is a return to his roots for Stuart. "The first recording session I ever participated in was in this room (RCA's studio B)," he says. Studio B was RCA's premier southern studio. Elvis, Homer and Jethro, and all of RCA's A-list pop acts recorded there in the 50's and 60's, often under the supervision of RCA's principal A&R man, Chet Atkins. The album opens with "Branded," a Stuart original that encapsulates what makes his music special – addictive melodies, hooky lyrics, and of course, hot picking.

Joined by his regular band, the Superlatives, which includes Kenny Vaughn on guitar, Harry Stinson on drums, and Paul Martin on bass, Stuart romps through eleven originals supplemented by three covers. Stuart's rendition of "Crazy Arms" features steel guitarist Ralph Mooney sharing solos with Stuart and Vaughn and turning it into the ultimate twangfest.

Marty says, "These songs have been lived through and this project comes from the heart. This time, it led me home to traditional country music…it's truly who I am."

By Steven Stone

Flyinshoes Review

August 28, 2010

Marty Stuart’s debut on Sugar Hill records differs little from previous efforts from this traditionalist. Only this recording is better than most any he has made. Other than his concept album The Pilgrim, I hasten to add, a record that had long been indelibly etched in my heart.

Recorded at Nashville‘s RCA Studio B studios, Stuart and his wife, Connie Smith (vocals) and pickers from his band the Superlatives Kenny Vaughan (guitars), Harry Stinson (drums) and Paul Martin (electric, acoustic bass, piano) plus six steel guitar players; Ralph Mooney, Gary Carter, Kayton Roberts, Robby Turner, Fred Newell and Tommy White, plus he has the legendary piano playing Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins join then party. It is a vibrant sound containing lots of twang as the above join his own acoustic, electric guitar and mandolin to go with his made to measure vocals. That like the hot pickin’ power forth on dynamic "Country Boy Rock & Roll," "Branded" and a mid-tempo version of Warner Mack’s "Bridge Washed Out" (with Carter obtaining full marks for his contribution) to go with the sensitive love ballad "Drifting Apart" (that is steeped in the steel guitar of Mooney) and a song written with Smith, "A World Without You.". A powerful affair he underlines there is a lot more to him than cranked up guitar licks. Although he does swop licks with his friend, Vaughan on smart instrumental "Hummingbyrd." A tune though he wrote it does remind me a lot of Buck Owens’ "Buckaroo" — and the Bakersfield sound in general…whatever, it is a damn good ‘un.

With ballads, a duet with Smith, two instrumentals and a song he wrote with the late Johnny Cash ("Hangman") still to write about you can see this is a big, big album from him. "Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten" takes the listener on a trip through the south as he speaks of a big ol’ black steel engine as it is fuelled by a strong, rocking country beat and lots of steel (Roberts). While his deep search of the economical change, and how jobs have been lost to foreign shores is superbly documented in the lament "Hard Working Man." While with Smith lending her pure sweet tones to the mix "I Run To You" is a solid piece and fits perfectly into the running order.

As a romantic storyteller Stuart pays homage to the late Porter Wagoner via his half-spoken song "Porter Wagoner’s Grave," and what a treat are the instrumentals as first off Mooney plays his classic country song "Crazy Arms." Then Stuart, playing solo shows off his mastery on mandolin on "Mississippi Railroad Blues." Superb stuff! A more fitting end to the recording you could not wish for.

By Maurice Hope

The Globe and Mail

August 23, 2010
Marty Stuart swings a lot of ways, but he called his 1997 album Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Marty Stuart is a throw back to a different era, an era when a career in country music encompassed your entire life and the entirety of country music. He is one of a group of men from the late 80's and early 90's who became famous playing with others before they became famous for their own music. At age 12, Stuart was playing in a bluegrass band; at age 14 he was touring with Flatt and Scruggs. By the time he embarked on his solo career at age 30, Stuart had played with artists ranging from Doc Watson to Johnny Cash. This wealth of experience left him with a profound knowledge of and love for country music. Ghost Train is a tribute to the music Stuart knows and loves.

The albums opens with “Branded, ” a song that calls to mind Buck Owen's“The Streets of Bakersfield,” both musically and lyrically. Stuart sings about “trying to outrun a bad story that everyone seems to know.” Country Boy Rock and Roll reads like the story of Marty Stuarts life, with lyrics that remind listeners of his early work with Travis Tritt and a fiddle breakdown that plays like this old days with Flatt and Scruggs. The bluegrass on the album is spare, but wonderful when it appears. Hummingbyrd is a sprightly instrumental track which serves as a bluegrass break from the Bakersfield and 60's country crooning. Stuart also closes his album out with another bluegrass interlude. Ralph Mooney, legendary steel guitar player, plays throughout the album, and Stuart gives him a star turn on the solo “Crazy Arms.” He also takes the time to do a duet with his wife, Connie Smith, on the beautiful “I Run To You.” “There's a woman down the street named Rosalie McFall, she don't ask me any questions when I come to call,” Stuart sings on “Hangman,” a dark ballad about the title character, in much the same vein as Johnny Cash. Stuart lets this album flow like a musical map of all the styles he has learned and seen.

More than anything else, however, Stuart seems to understand the themes that country music used to deal with, the ones that country music does not get right today. Country music used to really understand the end of a marriage, and covered it with a heartbreaking bluntness which was far more compelling than the melodrama of today. “Our home is like a prison where we're both serving time,” Stuart croons in the George Jones homage “Driftin' Apart.” “A World Without You” is an almost Eddy Arnold styled ballad, which also serves as a reminder of just how sumptuous Stuart's voice can be when he really unleashes it and stretches it out to its most heartbreaking edge. Likewise, today humor in country music tends to revolve either around man-bashing or frat boys trying to prove how country they are. Country in the 1960's was a far more humorous place, with writers like Roger Miller unabashedly penning songs like “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” “Bridge Washed Out” is a reminder of comedy country unencumbered by defensive macho posturing. But perhaps the one aspect of country music most missed by traditional country fans is the poor. Once upon a time country music was the music of the working class, of the broke and the broke down blue collared employees being shunted aside in the name of progress. “Here's a question that needs a straight answer, what will become of the working man,” he asks in “Hard Working Man,” a song that could be linked back to Merle Haggard's “I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver,” but which has more wide reaching roots a time when such songs were more about the people than the politics. “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” opens with a riff worthy of Jimmie Rodgers before opening out into a bluesy rocker about a man put under by the economy. And, of course, Porter Wagoner's Grave allows Stuart pay tribute to the criminally under-homaged singer while schooling contemporary singers on how to write an old-man-as-font-of-wisdom song.

Ghost Train is the kind of album that artist like Marty Stuart work their entire lives to create. It is precisely the kind of album that requires an entire lifetime of skill and knowledge to create. However, Marty Stuart is also the only kind of an artist that could create an album like Ghost Train. This sort of an album requires that an artist be enamored of the music, but also album to create new songs that celebrate and advance it. Hopefully this album will inspire more artists of Stuart's talents and experience to create more albums that lionize country music of the 1950's and 60's instead of merely covering it.

I’m not sure I agree with that – his Souls’ Chapel country-gospel disc from 2005 is quite fine – but Stuart, at this point in his strong career, deserves his point of view. And so, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions finds the man dishing pure country. "Country Boy Rock & Roll" is a faster-paced Buck Owens, "A World Without You" is a Jim Reeves-style weeper, "Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten" is half swamp blues and half 10-gallon-hat shuffle, and the darkly lit drama of "Hangman" was co-written with Johnny Cash four days before he faded to black. Stuart’s not the most charismatic vocalist alive, but as a channeler of styles and heroes past, he succeeds.

By B.W.


September 29, 2010

Like ex-presidents who turn the mantle of their former office into opportunities to improve the world, talented musicians can turn the freedom of their post-hit years into explorations of that which really moves them. And such is Marty Stuart, whose baptism in bluegrass led to a run on Nashville in the mid-80s and, more successfully, in the early 90s with a four year chart run that included Hillbilly Rock, Tempted and This One’s Gonna Hurt You. His subsequent releases kept his core fans, but provided only middling commercial returns. But as his chart success waned, his artistic vision expanded. 1999’s song cycle The Pilgrim was his most powerful and coherent album to that date, showing off both his musical range and his ability to write songs that are literary, but still communicate on an emotional level.

Throughout the current decade he’s explored gospel (Souls’ Chapel), Native American struggles (Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota), and country and folk standards (Cool Country Favorites). And this time out, Stuart salutes the classic country of his youth, but other than a couple of well selected covers, he uses all new originals to conjure the sounds that inspired him in the first place. What will really ring in listeners’ ears is how natural and heartfelt this is. Like a dancer floating through his steps, Stuart plays songs as an extension of his soul, rather than as a performance of words and music. Recording in the legendary RCA Studio B, Stuart amplifies the echoes of performances past, much as John Mellencamp has on his recent No Better Than This.

Stuart is a country classicist, and his new songs resound with the spirits of Waylon, Merle, Buck and Johnny. The instrumental “Hummingbyrd” recounts the playfulness of “Buckaroo” and the Johnny Cash co-write “The Hangman” retains the Man in Black’s gravitas and frankness. The opening “Branded” splits the difference between Haggard’s “Branded Man” and Owens’ “Streets of Bakersfield,” tipping a musical hat to the piercing guitar of Roy Nichols. Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll” gives Stuart a chance to roll out his rockabilly roots, and show off the glory of his band, the Fabulous Superlatives. Stuart and guitarist Kenny Vaughan sing a duet and duel on their electric guitars as drummer Harry Stinson and bassist Paul Martin push them with a hot train rhythm – this one’s sure to leave jaws hanging slack when played live.

The album’s ballads are just as good, not least of which for the emotional steel playing of Ralph Mooney (whose own “Crazy Arms” is covered here as an instrumental). Co-writing with his wife, singer Connie Smith, Stuart sings tales of romantic dissolution and regret. Smith joins Stuart for the exceptional duet “I Run to You,” drawing together threads of Gram and Emmylou, the Everly Brothers and classic Nashville pairings of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The album’s saddest song, however, is “Hard Working Man,” which questions the soul of a nation whose work ethic is undermined by globalization. There’s personal salvation in “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” but the questions raised in “Hard Working Man” is what will really haunt you.

The album ends with “Little Heartbreaker,” the best Dwight Yoakam song that Yoakam didn’t actually write lately, followed by a short mandolin solo that brings things back to Stuart’s bluegrass roots. The sounds of Stuart’s influences are immediate throughout, but as someone obsessed with country music from his teens, and a protégé of both Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, this is less a nostalgic interlude than a heeding of his mother’s words: “When you find yourself, if in the middle of nowhere, go back to Jerusalem and stand. Wait on divine guidance. It’s the only guidance worth having.” The recent neo-redneck movement may position themselves as modern-day hellraisers, but this rockabilly, Bakersfield twang and heartbroken balladry are the true sounds of rebellion, or as Stuart describes them, “sounds from the promised land.”

By Ariel Hyatt

iCF Music

February 1, 2011

My forty-fifth recommendation is: Marty Stuart’s (with Connie Smith) “I Run to You” from his 2010 Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions album. My post title practically gave it away haha, and I’m sure most people who read/used to read my blog already know about this gem however I wanted to write about it regardless. I realize that I have already recommended Marty’s music in the past but 3 years has passed and this record can’t go ignored. Truly one of country music’s best guides to its history and tradition, Marty Stuart can always be counted upon to create timeless soul-driven pieces of art and this is no exception. I love watching his Marty Stuart Show on RFD-TV when it airs and soaking up on that intoxicating steel and fiddle (which is pretty much meaningless on today’s radio) and really feeling it, so real country fans oughta check that out.

When I first previewed Ghost Train online a few months back, I was immediately pulled into the retro-production and Marty’s forever-spirited vocals. Every song was just as good as the last, though I have a real soft-spot for the slow traditional tunes with heavy steel usage and when I read reviews that Connie Smith, his legendary wife, sang with him on the album, I knew this was something special. One of my pet peeves from music fans/critics is when they label a song a “duet”, when it’s clearly not – and it’s background vocals and/or harmony instead. I would have loved a duet but no problemo here – this shit is gold! “I Run to You” (which is miles better than Lady Antebellum‘s recent hit) is a straight-forward, simple love collaboration between husband and wife and listening to it, you can’t help but be happy and smile. So country and sounds like something that was recorded in the 70's… I especially love hearing the end music (at 3:41) very Glen Campbell-ish there, but comparison ends there…it’s pure traditional with some polish. Knowing how much Stuart and Smith adore each other, and that they co-wrote “Run”, adds more substance and enjoyment of this particular song. They even performed it live on their TV show together and it was sweet stuff. My favorite line is “…each step I take, leads to you only…”. Kudos on the Grammy nomination!

Other tracks I love are: “Bridge Washed Out” (George Jones-ish), “Drifting Apart” (kinda lyrically repetitive in the chorus lol, but lovely tune), “Little Heartbreaker” (musically reminds me of Waylon Jennings‘s “Rainy Day Woman” and Carlene Carter‘s “Every Little Thing” ha), “Branded” (his version of “Branded Man” – my fav Merle Haggard song) and the others are great too! (I’ve got a comparison for everything ;) ) I bought my album on for $5. Best deal I’ve found. Only place I could get it. Buy this album!

The Independent

August 20, 2010

RCA's Studio B in Nashville was where Marty Stuart made his recording debut, aged 13, playing mandolin in Lester Flatt's band, so it's fitting he should return there for this rootsy traditional country outing, the best country album this year.

It features six pedal-steel guitarists laying down creamy, lachrymose lines and, in the case of the title-track, some neat lonesome-train impressions; and some of the most dazzling fingerpicking you'll hear in a long time on "Country Boy Rock & Roll," a dizzying Telecaster twangfest balanced by high-proof tear-jerkers like the marvellous "Drifting Apart." Stuart's outlaw status is affirmed in "Branded," while his friendship with Johnny Cash furnished the powerful "Hangman," an expression of executioner's misery co-written four days before Big John died. [4 out of 5 stars]

By Andy Gill

Jim's Country Music Reviews

August 9, 2010
Coming this month, is one of the most classic country recordings that I have heard in a while, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are just as good as a bluegrass band or country band. Recorded in historic RCA Studio B, The disc even has that info encoded. The title track "Ghost Train For-Oh -Ten" has that country train song vibe to it. Kenny Vaughn plays some great electric guitar riffs that are quick, focused and make you want to dance.

"Hard Working Man" (Marty Stuart) is a slow country ballad that talk about the plight of the hard working man. Excellent vocals and great old-timey pedal steel by Ralph Mooney. Good solo by Vaughan. BTW, the rest of the Superlatives are Harry Stinson on drums and Paul Martin on Bass. Four different pedal steel players are used, Ralph Mooney, Kayton Roberts, Gary Carter, and Robby Turner. There are some sparse strings in the background. Ralph Mooney plays a solo of his "Crazy Arms" on pedal steel after being asked by Marty. He really nails the song. "Porter Wagoners Grave" is a classic country talk song that Stuart does a very emotive job at performing, while the band plays quietly in the background. If Marty Stuart is not one of the fine voices of country today, no one is, this song never fails to touch me. The he goes into a melody after the talk part. This is a very touching song.

After this song the band goes into a little Bakersfield sound, 'Little Heartbreaker," which has some great lyrics, raw guitar pickin', this is good, picture Dwight Yoacum with someone else singing and Vaughn goes into some more great guitar work, minced with pedal steel.

For an ending, they go acoustic and play a bluegrass jam with mandolin, mostly ripping off thru a melody. As the disc starts with a very country rocker "Branded" which has lots of electc guitar, some great country hooks, and more pedal steel. This band rocks, sounding a bit like Radney Foster. My favorite song is "Country Boy Rock and Roll." Kenny Vaughan plays some of the hottest guitar playing that I ever heard, He plays right along with the melody of the song and goes plain nuts at end. (Whew) The cover is retro back and white of a train comin' a you. This is Marty at his best.

By Jim Moulton

Let's Go

September 9, 2010

Music doesn’t get more country than the songs on Ghost Train and country doesn’t get any better than this.

Veteran Marty Stuart, who’s been playing with legends since he was a teenager, has put together a combination of songs and styles that reflect the timeless traditional country sounds and themes. Some highlights: “Country Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll,” his venture into his hillbilly rock ‘n’ roll with Kenny Vaughan tearing up the guitar; heartbroke ballad “Drifting Apart”; the classic country duet “I Run To You” with Connie Smith; the Merle Haggard update “Hard Working Man,” a prison song from the point-of-view a “Hangman,” and a spoken-word trip to “Porter Wagoner’s Grave.”

Keeping with tradition, there are three instrumentals on the album, including a great, if short, version of “Crazy Arms” with the legendary Ralph Mooney on pedal steel.

To put it simply, Ghost Train is the best country record of 2010.

By L. Kent Wolgamott

The Lincoln Journal Star

August 23, 2010

Recorded in the Nashville studio where Elvis Presley and many others crafted hits, Marty Stuart's Ghost Train is the best country record of 2010 so far, a combination of songs and styles from a veteran who's been playing with legends since he was a teenager and reflects the timeless traditional sounds in the music.

Some highlights of a great album: "Country Boy Rock ‘n' Roll," his venture into his hillbilly rock ‘n' roll with Kenny Vaughan tearing up the guitar; heartbroke ballad "Drifting Apart"; the classic country duet "I Run To You" with Connie Smith; the Merle Haggard update "Hard Working Man," a prison song from the point-of-view a "Hangman"; and a spoken-word trip to "Porter Wagoner's Grave."

Keeping with tradition, there are three instrumentals on the album, including a great, if short version of "Crazy Arms" with the legendary Ralph Mooney on pedal steel.

Music doesn't get more country than the songs on Ghost Train and country doesn't get any better than this. Grade: A

By L. Kent Wolgamott

The Lonesome Road Review

October 31, 2010

If you’ve been watching Marty Stuart’s excellent program on RFD-TV, you’ve probably heard many of these songs performed by Stuart and his almost-peerless band The Fabulous Superlatives, namely Kenny Vaughan (guitar), Harry Stinson (drums) and Paul Martin (bass). Ghost Train also includes the revolving efforts of several great steel guitar players.

Their sound on the show, and on this album, is classic 1960s country, with equal parts honky tonk and rockabilly with a little bit of country rock thrown in.

Stuart had a hand in writing all but three songs on this 14-song, 44-minute effort, which includes standout versions of Don Reno’s “Country Boy Rock & Roll,” Warner Mack’s “Bridge Washed Out” and an instrumental of “Crazy Arms.”

Originals like “Branded,” “Drifting Apart,” “A World Without You,” “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” and “I Run to You” are all good songs performed flawlessly. The slight problem is that they all feel like not-quite-as-good versions of country songs already written and performed by others.

“Little Heartbreaker” breaks out of this mold, as does an ominous co-write with Johnny Cash called “Hangman” and “Hard Working Man,” which namechecks Hag’s “Working Man Blues” and does that troubadour proud.

Though I’ve never been a fan of recitations, “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” is an interesting addition to that subgenre, and “Mississippi Railroad Blues” reminds us that Stuart is every bit as dangerous on a mandolin as he is on a guitar.

It’s tempting to rate such a well-executed traditional country album higher given the current state of things, but one has to measure even such strong gestures by the yardstick of history, not just the last few years.

It would be very interesting to see Stuart, who produced this disc, team up with another producer (not Rick Rubin or T Bone Burnett) who could bring a little better material to the table and get this expert unit to stretch out a bit.

By Aaron Keith Harris

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

August 24, 2010

Since making his professional debut as a 13-year-old mandolin whiz with Flatt & Scruggs, Marty Stuart has been an indelible link between traditional and modern country music. A strong protector of the genre's heritage, he's preserved one of the largest collections of country music artifacts, and his photography has captured timeless images of the legends.

With Ghost Train, Stuart has crafted a collection of songs that doesn't merely pay homage to his country forebears, but would fit easily in the catalogs of Haggard, Owens, Cash and Jones.

Recording the album in RCA's Studio B in Nashville - home to the biggest hits from Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride and others - Stuart and his instrumentally talented Superlatives are joined by steel guitarist Ralph Mooney as they effortlessly channel passion, heartbreak, hardships and joy.

Originals such as the bounding "Branded," the mournful "Drifting Apart" and the Johnny Cash co-written "Hangman" (written four days before his death) drip with authenticity. The album's covers, including Don Reno's "Country Boy Rock & Roll" and an instrumental take on Mooney's "Crazy Arms," are vibrant expressions of a time gone by, recorded in an era that could benefit from a bit more looking back.

By Erik Ernst


The Mountain Times

January 13, 2011

Turn on Country Music Television and you'll find re-runs of "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader."

You may get lucky and find some actual "country music" videos. Wait until 2 or 3 a.m., and you might come across a genuine country music artist by the name of Marty Stuart, selling classic country CD collections.

If anyone is qualified to sell such a product, it's Marty Stuart. Now 52, Stuart has had a storied career. A fixation with country led him to teach himself guitar and mandolin as a child. At 13, Stuart earned a place in the band of bluegrass legend Lester Flatt. After the gig was up, he went on to play with other renowned figures like Doc Watson and Vassar Clements and spent five years with Johnny Cash.

Breaking out as a solo artist in the mid 1980s, Stuart achieved a few chart successes with his eclectic country performances. Although critical acclaim has remained with him, commercial triumphs have been sparse in the last 15 years. Regardless, Marty Stuart would probably tell you it's not his prerogative to be at the top of the charts.

Stuart released his sixteenth studio album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, in the late summer of 2010. Again, sales weren't exceptional, but the release landed on many year-end best-of lists and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

Of the country albums released last year, Ghost Train is most certainly the most traditional and true to the original form of the music. It was recorded in the historic RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tenn., where Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow once put their hits on tape. With Ghost Train, Stuart shows he is worthy enough to stand in such footprints.

Ringing steel guitar, impassioned mandolin and guitar picking and country-boy delivery are all over Ghost Train. It has a classic-country feel that will take the listener back half a century or more. Stuart is what some call a neo-traditionalist: He performs the country more closely associated with years past

Though the dark spots of Ghost Train are prominent, radiance is never far away. Openers "Branded" and "Country Boy Rock & Roll" send Ghost Train down the tracks with rocking speed. The title song, "Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten," is a 12-bar blues song, featuring a brilliant steel guitar emulating a train horn. The three instrumentals sprinkled through the album are also upbeat and do a fantastic job of showcasing Stuart's musical talent.

When the stop at somberness arrives, it does not come without reason. Stuart's long-time friend and country singer, Porter Wagoner, passed away in 2007, shortly after Stuart produced his final album. Stuart resorted to writing about his friend to soften the blow of the loss and the result is "Porter Wagoner's Grave." Part spoken-word, the song describes a posthumous visit from Wagoner, who delivers some wisdom to his friend.

Another bleak song, "Hangman," is the stirring description of the life of an executioner. It is especially notable because it is the last song to which Johnny Cash put a pen. Stuart co-wrote the song with Cash four days before his death in 2003.

Ghost Train wouldn't be a true country album without a tear-in-your-beer song, like "Drifting Apart," about a breaking relationship. Stuart's real-life relationship with singer Connie Smith is anything but, as heard in the two songs they wrote together for the album, "A World Without You" and "I Run To You," the latter of which is a passionate duet.

Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions continues Marty Stuart's veracious ode to real country music. Unlike "New Country" artists, Stuart is less about name-checking the legends of the field and more about honoring them by keeping them alive in his lyricism and musical delivery.

By Ashley Wilson

My Kind of Country

August 30, 2010

After exploring the various aspects of American roots music, including southern gospel, delta blues, bluegrass, and a concept album exploring the plight of Native Americans, Marty Stuart is back with Ghost Train, his most mainstream album in years. This time around he’s offering unadulterated traditional country music with a generous helping of rockabilly and a touch of bluegrass. Stuart chose to record the self-produced project in Nashville’s famed RCA Studio B, where many timeless classics were captured on tape, and where Stuart himself took part in his first recording session at age 13 when he was playing mandolin for Lester Flatt. Those expecting a retro-sounding album are in for a surprise; Stuart has successfully accomplished his goal of “writing a new chapter” in traditional country music, and produced an album that is unquestionably traditional, yet sounds fresh and contemporary rather than a nostalgic tribute to days gone by.

The opening track and lead single, “Branded” is one of eleven tracks on the album in which Marty had a hand in writing. It has drawn comparisons to Merle Haggard, and the lyrics do bring to mind such classics as “Branded Man” and “The Fugitive,” but the arrangement and production are solidly in the vein of Stuart’s own classics such as “Hillbilly Rock” and “Tempted.” In a sane and rational world, “Branded” would be in heavy rotation at country radio stations from coast to coast. “Country Boy Rock and Roll”, as the title suggests, delves further into rockabilly territory. Though Stuart is in fine vocal form, it is his guitar picking and that of Kenny Vaughan, a member of Stuart’s band The Fabulous Superlatives, that compels the listener to stop and take notice. The lack of this kind of picking is what has contributed to the blandness of most of today’s country music.

The three finest songs on the album are “Drifting Apart”, “A World Without You” and “I Run To You”, all of which Stuart co-wrote with his wife Connie Smith. Not to be confused with the recent Lady Antebellum hit of the same title, “I Run To You”, the best song on the album, is a declaration of undying love that is beautifully sung by Stuart and Smith. The tasteful production is enhanced by a prominent steel guitar and an understated string section.

“Hangman” is a somber affair of self-examination and soul-searching by an executioner trying to come to terms with the unpleasantries of his grim profession. Though too dark and brooding for country radio’s tastes, the song will be remembered as one of the last, if not the last, written by Johnny Cash. Cash penned the tune with Stuart a mere four days before The Man In Black died.

Stuart draws on personal experience with “Hard Working Man”, which tells the tale of Marty’s father who was relieved of his duties as a factory worker after many years of service. Very much in the vein of songs written by both Merle Haggard and Alan Jackson, it is eerily relevant in today’s economic climate:

What will become of the working man
With honest sweat on his brow?
Is the nation that raised him to build it
Gonna turn its back on him now?
Take away his pride and dignity,
Give his job to some foreign land?
Here’s a question that needs a straight answer:
What will become of the hard working man?

Ghost Train also pays homage to the past by reviving the once common practice of including a few instrumental tracks on the album. The most noteworthy of the three instrumentals is “Crazy Arms,” which is performed by its composer, the legendary steel guitar virtuoso Ralph Mooney, who also plays steel on several other of the album’s tracks.

Following “Crazy Arms” is “Porter Wagoner’s Grave,” which tells the story of a lost soul who is saved after an encounter in a cemetery with the late country legend’s spirit. And just when it appears that the album is winding down, the pace picks up again with “Little Heartbreaker (The Likes Of You),” a co-write with Ralph Mooney, that like “Branded,” is reminiscent of Stuart’s hit-making days. The instrumental bluegrass number “Mississippi Railroad Blues” closes the album, and allows Stuart to showcase his mastery of the mandolin.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an album this much, but suffice it to say, it’s been a long time. If you’re only going to buy one country album this year, make it this one. My feelings about this collection can be summed up in two words: More, please.

By Razor X


August 27, 2010

Marty Stuart keeps fighting the good fight. His latest record, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, champions classic country sounds and does so with impeccable authority. Stuart even went so far as to record the new album in the famous RCA Studio B in Nashville. Chet Atkins advocated for the studio's construction in 1957 to facilitate his monumental Nashville Sound productions, and Stuart first recorded in it in 1972 as part of a Lester Flatt session. Today, Stuart's mission and passion is making sure that traditional country sounds are not forgotten. On Ghost Train, he succeeds at doing that amazingly well. With his ace backing band The Fabulous Superlatives (seriously, these guys are as good as anyone playing in Nashville today), he has crafted an ode to vintage sounds that resonates and crackles with a touch of modern energy. Much like Carryin' On, the Dale Watson record that we wrote about earlier this week, Ghost Train is a tremendous celebration of classic country and makes for a great listen.

National Public Radio (NPR)

August 20, 2010

Like countless performers before him, Marty Stuart likes to portray himself as hunted, haunted, misunderstood — a rebel on the lam. It's a familiar story, whether it's coming from the blues, honky-tonk, or hip-hop. The trick is to make that story sound fresh. Stuart does in the ringing guitars and high-lonesome holler in his voice on a song on his new album Ghost Train called "Branded." Whether he intends it or not, "Branded" is also something of a pun: This new collection is Stuart's proclamation that, while he can't help but become a consumer brand, his branding is that of the outsider. All of this would be hopelessly hokey if the music didn't bolster his line of patter.

On "Drifting Apart," Marty Stuart howls about a broken marriage in what amounts to an homage to the kind of steel-guitar super-hits George Jones and Buck Owens made decades ago. Stuart wrote the song and produced it himself. The steel guitar is played by Ralph Mooney, the man credited with nothing less than inventing the so-called "Bakersfield Sound" on hits with Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart, among many others. Stuart is a fluid guitar player himself, who played bluegrass mandolin behind Lester Flatt when Stuart was 13 years old. But he never gets bogged down in fussy arrangements or mere nostalgia.

Marty Stuart's duet partner on the vibrant new song "I Run To You" is his wife, Connie Smith, a great country singer, starting with her indelible 1964 hit "Once A Day." Sometimes it seems as though Marty Stuart has built a life around him that allows him to live in a kind of perpetual country-music time-machine. He curates exhibits of music memorabilia and photography, and doing restoration work on legends such as Porter Wagoner, for whom Stuart produced a lively 2007 album, shortly before Wagoner's death at age 80. Stuart has a song on Ghost Train called "Porter Wagoner's Grave" that's at once eloquent and maudlin in a long tradition of country death songs.

All is not gloom and grave-dust, however, as the song "Little Heartbreaker" demonstrates. The longer you ride in Marty Stuart's Ghost Train, the more its speed and energy hits you like the wind in your face. In the liner notes to this new album, Marty Stuart says that he felt it was time to, "write some songs and play some hard-hitting country music." Most of the time, Ghost Train hits hard, dead center in the sweet spot between old and new, until you can't tell the difference.

By James Minchin, III

No Depression

July 30, 2010

There are certain artists whom I feel most music fans should have at least a passing familiarity with: Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, the Ramones, etc. The list is debatable, of course, and I'm sure hard rock and heavy metal fans would want to add Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath just as fans of hip-hop would want to include the likes of N.W.A. (in fact, fans of hip-hop would probably dismiss most of the list entirely; sadly, most of them have very narrow musical tastes and even narrower minds). Regardless, I doubt if anybody would include Marty Stuart or John Mellencamp on that list. Both are great, but they aren't exactly icons on the level of the others I mentioned. Yet both of them will release albums this month that I believe should be required listening for every young musician. Not just because the music is great, but because of the way they were recorded.

Today's music industry is undoubtedly in decline. Blame the rise of internet piracy and the death of physical music formats if you want, but when it comes down to it the fault lies with the music itself. New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys were here long before Napster and bitTorrents.For years now vocal mistakes have been Auto-Tuned out of the finished product, missed notes were overdubbed, and basically the entire thing sounded far too polished. This is a horrible thing for music and is the real reason why it is dying. I don't recall the exact quote nor the place where I read it (I'm guessing one of Peter Guralnick's books on Elvis or Colin Escott's history of Sun Records), but legendary producer Sam Phillips once said something along the lines of this: the greatest performances are rarely flawless in a technical sense and too many studio gimmicks almost always ruin a record. That is why young musicians need to hear the upcoming albums by Mellencamp and Stuart: to realize that is not about modern-day multi-million dollar recording studios with perfect acoustics (yes, even some indie artists are guilty of this), that its not about top-of-the-line vocal tuners that can make even Bob Dylan sound like Caruso, and that it's not about writing to the lowest common denominator in hopes of having a hit record that will be forgotten about in a year. These two albums reveal that its about passion and a good sense of history, but mainly passion.

I've already reviewed the Mellencamp disc (read my review of it HERE), so now it's time to take a swing at Marty Stuart's Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, which will be released on August 24th. Like Sun Studios, where Mellencamp recorded the bulk of his album, RCA's Studio B is now a museum and Stuart had to obtain special permission from the Country Music Hall of Fame in order to record there. In the '50s, '60s, and '70s, it was the studio frequented by country's biggest stars as well as Elvis Presley who recorded roughly 50% of his output there. It goes without saying that the studio has seen its share of great music and Stuart, who made his recording debut in Studio B in 1972 as the 12-year-old mandolin player in Lester Flatt's band, makes great music live there once again.

The album opens with "Branded" which could very well be a homage to Merle Haggard's "Branded Man". Of course, it's not as great; for starters, Haggard lived it and secondly, Marty Stuart is no Merle Haggard as I'm sure even he would point out. With its shortcomings duly mentioned, I still must say that it is an excellent track that adds just the right touch of rock to its '70s country feel.

"Country Boy Rock & Roll," a cover of an old Reno & Smiley tune, follows and, given its past as a bluegrass number, it should come as no surprise that this one makes a fine showcase for Marty's band, the Superlatives.

"Drifting Apart" is the sort of honky-tonk ballad that George Jones specializes in. As you can surmise from the title, the melancholy tune tells of a relationship on the edge of falling apart. A real highlight here, and for that matter the entire album, is the pedal steel playing of Ralph Mooney. This track is a highlight of the album and a bittersweet reminder of what Nashville was once capable of.

"The Bridge Washed Out" is another cover, this one of a 1965 hit by Warner Mack that went to the top of the country charts. Marty and the Superlatives give the tale of a wedding day gone awry a country-rock feel with some elements of classic Waylon Jennings thrown in for good measure. As with the previous cover, this number is ample proof that even with Stuart's considerable skill as a vocalist, musician, and songwriter, his real strength is as a performer.

"A World Without You" is another classic-styled ballad, this one co-written by Stuart's wife, Connie Smith. Mooney's crying steel guitar is again a major highlight here as is Stuart's vocal delivery which speaks to his near-encyclopedic knowledge of the history of country music that has allowed him to find his own style in the modern era while staying true to tradition. I must also mention the Jordanaire-esque background vocals that I imagine Elvis would have greatly approved of.

"Hummingbyrd" is another showcase for the Superlatives and especially Marty's electric guitar playing. This time, as the title implies, that guitar is one once owned by Clarence White. This instrumental would make a great soundtrack to a high-speed drive down the highway and it does indeed sound reminiscent of the Byrds.

"I killed another man today," Stuart solemnly declares at the opening of "Hangman," my favorite track here. The song has late-period Johnny Cash written all over it and with good reason. Stuart, the former husband of Cindy Cash, spent five years as a multi-instrumentalist in Cash's band and was also his next-door neighbor at the time of his death. Marty wrote the first verse after a visit to Folsom Prison and after sharing it with Cash, the two completed the song together. Four days later, country music lost perhaps its greatest artist but had it not one could easily imagine this song being a highlight of American V. "Who killed who I've asked myself time and time again," Stuart sings above the stark, bare-bones arrangement, "God have mercy on the soul of this hangman."

"Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten" also has a feel reminiscent of Johnny Cash and also Jimmie Rodgers. The biggest influence by far, though is the Elvis classic "Mystery Train." But unlike the classic train songs of those legends, this one reflects our own modern society where "the trains don't run no more." There's a supernatural element to this one that I really love and the band is really hot here on the tale of a ghost train that carries "gamblers, thugs, and thieves, and the likes of me."

"Hard Working Man" is another stark, stripped-down acoustic tune and the wonderful lyrics speak for themselves, so I'll just let them: "What will become of the working man with honest sweat on his brow?/Will the nation that raised him to build it gonna turn its back on him now?/Take away his pride and dignity, give his job to some foreign land/Here's a question that needs a straight answer: what will become of the hard working man?". Stuart is right that the question needs a straight answer and if you have that answer feel free to give it in the comments or better yet in a letter to your Congressman. I have no idea who Marty Stuart voted for and I really don't care. This song transcends politics; it's about a way of life and Stuart's sincere delivery ensures us that he is not on the side of the corporate-run Republicans or the corporate-run Democrats. He is on America's side; he is on our side.

"I Run to You" is a duet with Connie Smith that is reminiscent of Loretta and Conway or George and Tammy. It is a near-perfect love song and I still can't figure out whose idea it was to put strings on a hillbilly record, but it really works in this case. Thank you Ray Price.

Speaking of Ray Price, when I first saw that "Crazy Arms" was on the track list, I cringed a little. It's not that I don't think Stuart could do a capable job on the classic, it's just that the versions by Price and Jerry Lee Lewis are really all that we need. Luckily this is an instrumental version with the most prominent instrument being the pedal steel of Ralph Mooney, who wrote the song.

"Porter Wagoner's Grave" is a recitation with a strong Christian theme. You don't hear many recitations these days; not in mainstream Nashville, nor in alt-country, mainly because few can pull them off. Yet Stuart does a good job and the song makes for a great tribute to Stuart's late friend and is an intriguing tale of how "On a dark stormy night, a lost soul was saved/Brought into the fold on Porter Wagoner's grave."

"Little Heartbreaker," co-written by Stuart and Mooney, livens things up with its honky-tonk country-rock. This is the kind of song that Stuart became famous for early on in his solo career and he still performs this type of material as well as anybody in the business.

"Mississippi Railroad Blues" closes the album by finding Stuart going full circle. The song is the album's second instrumental, this time performed solo by Stuart on the mandolin. The melodic piece is performed at a very fast pace and proves that he hasn't lost his touch on the instrument that first brought him to prominence.

In conclusion, this is what we've come to expect from Marty Stuart: a solid collection of country tunes with a dash of rootsy rock and roll here and there. This time there is more of a focus on history than ever before and we get all of the classic country archetypes: the train songs, the prison songs, a duet, a few sad ballads, a gospel number, and even a few instrumentals. Marty Stuart is keeping the spirit of country music alive within Nashville. It's a fight he can't win, but he'll go to his grave trying and as I stated at the beginning, all young musicians can take a lesson or two from this album.

By Adam Sheets


September 20, 2010
This is traditional twang at its best, courtesy of Stuart's raw vocals and a mix of new and old tunes, including the haunting "Hangman," cowritten with Johnny Cash. [4 Stars]

Philadelphia Inquirer

August 29, 2010

n the liner notes to Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, Marty Stuart concludes by writing, "It was time to write some songs and it was long past time to play some hard-hitting country music." Well, Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, along with guests such as steel-guitar great Ralph Mooney, deliver in spades.

Stuart is a country music veteran who's an unabashed lover of the music's history in its various forms, and you can hear that throughout Ghost Train. It opens with a couple of Bakersfield-style electric guitar workouts, "Branded" and Don Reno's "Country Boy Rock and Roll," the latter a duet, and a six-string duel, with the Superlatives' Kenny Vaughan (more of that approach turns up later).

Stuart also nods to his former father-in-law and boss, Johnny Cash, with their cowritten "Hangman," a sepulchral ballad; duets with his wife, Connie Smith, on "I Run to You," and pays tribute to an old friend with "Porter Wagoner's Grave," delivered in a Wagoner-style recitation.

Following his, uh, superlative work of the last decade, Ghost Train offers further proof that the 51-year-old Stuart, who got his start at 13 with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt, is really just now in his prime. [3-1/2 Stars]

By Nick Cristiano


September 22, 2010

Many fans believe country music in America hit its heyday during the sixties, when individualists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Porter Wagoner put their idiosyncratic stamps on the hard driving rhythms and soft spoken truths of that era. To some people, like Marty Stuart, the glory of that sound still lives on, like a ghost train that barrels through the backwoods of the nation. Stuart’s not just nostalgic, he brings that music back to life through his exuberance and talent. In fact, he even recorded his latest album in the old RCA Studio B in Nashville where so many classic albums were recorded, including those he made with Lester Flatts’ band when Stuart was a prodigy at a mere 13 years of age. The new disc is a peach, the sweet and juicy kind where one sucks on the pit because one cannot bear to part with its rich flavor.

Stuart pays tribute to Cash, Haggard, and Wagoner directly on his new album. Stuart’s association with Cash goes way back. Stuart played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle in Cash’s band for many years and even was married to the Man in Black’s daughter for a few years. Here Stuart sings a song he co-wrote with Cash just four days before the great man died. “Hangman” tells the tale of an executioner with a troubled conscience about his job. Stuart lets the tale resonate and lets the sound of his guitar do the talking as he seeks g-d’s mercy for the last minute of the tale. The effect is hauntingly unresolved.

On “Hard Working Man”, he takes on Haggard’s “Working Man’s Blues”, directly citing the song as he notes that the one thing sadder than a working man with no time for his family and fun is one that has nothing to do with his hands. Stuart and Haggard have sung together in the past, most notably on “Farmer’s Blues”. On this track, Stuart preaches pride and dignity rather than politics as he asks, “What will become of the hard working man?” Stuart cannot answer, but feels compelled to raise the issue in a voice that echoes Haggard’s original anthem.

Stuart’s tribute to the Wagonmaster is the album’s eeriest track. The two men had become close in Wagoner’s final days, and Stuart produced the man’s final record. “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” concerns a stranger who seeks shelter from the storm in a cemetery. Stuart offers a spoken word recitation about an apparition that drives the man from the graveyard to the church as he finds salvation in the ghost of Porter Wagoner. Amen, brother, amen.

But these are only three of album’s 15 cuts that evoke the spirit of country music past in a variety of styles, from sweet love songs such as “I Run to You” (sung with his wife, Connie Smith) to jaunty instrumentals like “Hummingbyrd” (a tribute to the Byrds’ guitarist Clarence White in which Stuart plays White’s old guitar) to hot pickin’ standards like “Country Boy Rock & Roll” (with Kenny Vaughan) to… well, it seems silly to name every single song, because they all vary in style and each one’s a winner. Stuart makes the music come alive and feel as current and topical today, even as he captures the passion of a bygone era. Themes of love, death, work, and fun will always be timeless, but not everyone can make them seem so. Stuart is the real deal. [Rating: 8 out of 10 stars]

By Steven Horowitz


August 23, 2010

Marty Stuart is a throw back to a different era, an era when a career in country music encompassed your entire life and the entirety of country music. He is one of a group of men from the late 80's and early 90's who became famous playing with others before they became famous for their own music. At age 12, Stuart was playing in a bluegrass band; at age 14 he was touring with Flatt and Scruggs. By the time he embarked on his solo career at age 30, Stuart had played with artists ranging from Doc Watson to Johnny Cash. This wealth of experience left him with a profound knowledge of and love for country music. Ghost Train is a tribute to the music Stuart knows and loves.

The albums opens with “Branded, ” a song that calls to mind Buck Owen's“The Streets of Bakersfield,” both musically and lyrically. Stuart sings about “trying to outrun a bad story that everyone seems to know.” Country Boy Rock and Roll reads like the story of Marty Stuarts life, with lyrics that remind listeners of his early work with Travis Tritt and a fiddle breakdown that plays like this old days with Flatt and Scruggs. The bluegrass on the album is spare, but wonderful when it appears. Hummingbyrd is a sprightly instrumental track which serves as a bluegrass break from the Bakersfield and 60's country crooning. Stuart also closes his album out with another bluegrass interlude. Ralph Mooney, legendary steel guitar player, plays throughout the album, and Stuart gives him a star turn on the solo “Crazy Arms.” He also takes the time to do a duet with his wife, Connie Smith, on the beautiful “I Run To You.” “There's a woman down the street named Rosalie McFall, she don't ask me any questions when I come to call,” Stuart sings on “Hangman,” a dark ballad about the title character, in much the same vein as Johnny Cash. Stuart lets this album flow like a musical map of all the styles he has learned and seen.

More than anything else, however, Stuart seems to understand the themes that country music used to deal with, the ones that country music does not get right today. Country music used to really understand the end of a marriage, and covered it with a heartbreaking bluntness which was far more compelling than the melodrama of today. “Our home is like a prison where we're both serving time,” Stuart croons in the George Jones homage “Driftin' Apart.” “A World Without You” is an almost Eddy Arnold styled ballad, which also serves as a reminder of just how sumptuous Stuart's voice can be when he really unleashes it and stretches it out to its most heartbreaking edge. Likewise, today humor in country music tends to revolve either around man-bashing or frat boys trying to prove how country they are. Country in the 1960's was a far more humorous place, with writers like Roger Miller unabashedly penning songs like “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” “Bridge Washed Out” is a reminder of comedy country unencumbered by defensive macho posturing. But perhaps the one aspect of country music most missed by traditional country fans is the poor. Once upon a time country music was the music of the working class, of the broke and the broke down blue collared employees being shunted aside in the name of progress. “Here's a question that needs a straight answer, what will become of the working man,” he asks in “Hard Working Man,” a song that could be linked back to Merle Haggard's “I Wish A Buck Was Still Silver,” but which has more wide reaching roots a time when such songs were more about the people than the politics. “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” opens with a riff worthy of Jimmie Rodgers before opening out into a bluesy rocker about a man put under by the economy. And, of course, Porter Wagoner's Grave allows Stuart pay tribute to the criminally under-homaged singer while schooling contemporary singers on how to write an old-man-as-font-of-wisdom song.

Ghost Train is the kind of album that artist like Marty Stuart work their entire lives to create. It is precisely the kind of album that requires an entire lifetime of skill and knowledge to create. However, Marty Stuart is also the only kind of an artist that could create an album like Ghost Train. This sort of an album requires that an artist be enamored of the music, but also album to create new songs that celebrate and advance it. Hopefully this album will inspire more artists of Stuart's talents and experience to create more albums that lionize country music of the 1950's and 60's instead of merely covering it.

By Stormy Lewis

Saving Country

December 21, 2010

With the album Ghost Train – The Studio B Sessions, the classiest man in country is saving country music the right way.

The amazing thing about Marty Stuart is that he can be all things to all people. With his background in bluegrass, being an understudy of Lester Flatt for many years, then playing in Johnny Cash’s band, going as far as marrying Cash’s daughter Cindy before eventually landing long-term with his current wife and Grand Ole Opry great Connie Smith, Marty has had his toes in just about every country music creek. He’s a bluegrass legend. He’s a country music great. His 90's stint of country rock and his honky tonk styles round him out as a living history of all the styles residing under the big country music tent.

And he can shift gears so easily. His gospel music is authentic. He can swing western with The Quebe Sisters, pal around with Dale Watson, make an appearance on a Hank III album, and nobody bats an eye. And with his Marty Stuart Show on RFDTV, he’s bringing all of these styles together and keeping true country on the boob tube alive.

If you’ve watched Marty’s show, you might worry a bit that a new album might be a little hokey: more Hee-Haw than hard country. George Strait might have put out an album called Twang, but Ghost Train is the one that delivers it. This album is heavily guitar-driven from the start, turning the twang on the Telecasters to 10 and leaving it loud in the mix. Its the kind of twang that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Then add some Ralph Mooney pedal steel on top and Ghost Train might be the freshest, funnest and truest traditional country album to come out of Nashville in years.

Ralph Mooney is all over this album like a bad rash, adding a thick, countrified feel to many of the compositions. He co-wrote two of the songs, including one of the standouts, “Little Heartbreaker,” which when I first heard it, sounded so much like Waylon’s “Rainy Day Woman” my rip-off alert started to sound. But of course, that’s because Mooney played on that song as well in 1974, as well as many other Waylon songs for 20 years, as well as all those great early-era Merle Haggard songs and so many others that define what real country fans think of when they think “country.”

Lyrical standouts from the album are “Hangman,” which was composed with Johnny Cash and takes a very stark look into the heart of the executioner, and “Hard Working Man,” which despite the glut of working man songs in country, really makes you think about the impending extinction of people who find fulfillment and soul from working with their hands in a way I had never thought about before.

Ghost Train was recorded at RCA’s studio B, which in short, is where pretty much every country song from the 60's was recorded. These days it is mostly a museum piece of the Country Music Hall of Fame, but Marty convinced them to let him borrow it. Some may complain that a few of Ghost Train’s songs like “Drifting Apart” and “A World Without You” deal with tired themes, but these were the themes that made Studio B legendary. The ghost of Studio B is alive in Ghost Train, and should be seen as an underlying theme woven throughout these songs, though they don’t have the stuffy feeling, or the overdubbed strings and choruses that defined Studio B’s “Nashville Sound” and eventually created a ghost of Studio B when Tompall Glaser opened his Hillbilly Central studio and The Outlaws won control of the music back from the old guard.

With an album like this, I was destined to latch on to songs like “Branded,” “Country Boy Rock & Roll,” “Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten,” “Hummingbyrd,” and “Little Heartbreaker;” the more, twangy, high-energy numbers. But there really isn’t a weak track in the bunch, and the diversity of songs keeps it fresh. “Porter Wagoner’s Grave” is a little hokey, but a gospel element adds that legitimacy to the project, just like the gospel number Marty does on every episode of The Marty Stuart Show.

When I first heard “Hummingbyrd” I remember thinking after the song started, “Man I hope there’s no singing on this song, just driving guitars,” and Marty had that same thought. It is a tribute to Clarence White of The Byrds (and the reason for the ‘y’ in -byrd.) Marty’s primary telecaster guitar was White’s. He died in 1973. Marty also pays homage to the old time music that country came from, and the bluegrass world that he came from with the last song “Mississippi Railroad Blues” where he shows off his mastery with the mandolin.

I really want to pound the pavement for my individualism from being from Mississippi and the heritage from which I step out from. It’s a record about a train, I’m a mandolin player from Mississippi, and it just seemed like the final brush stroke on a portrait of a music and a culture that I love. It was a simple way to say, “Thank you very much, friends and neighbors.”

You get a sense with this album that Marty feels he has plenty of money. He just wants to make good country music the right way and have fun doing it. Damn the commercial success, though if the “take a case a beer and a four wheel drive out to the lake” pop country crowd overlook this album it is their mistake, because songs like “Hummingbyrd” and “Country Boy Rock & Roll” are as fun and accessible as any.

And this album is important. It reminds us that Ralph Mooney is still around, and just how important this one man has been to the formation of the country sound. It reminds us too that not all is lost in Nashville. There are still great artists making great music, despite the influence and desires of suits in tall buildings. Marty doesn’t fight the musical gentrification of Nashville with songs filled with four letter words, he does it by example. He puts out great songs with a wide appeal, served with a friendly smile and a appreciation and respect for all.

I give Ghost Train two guns up!

By The Triggerman

Slant Magazine

August 22, 2010

Though he began his career alongside other neo-traditionalist acts like Dwight Yoakam and Clint Black, Marty Stuart has emerged as one of the most passionate, most capable champions of purely traditional country music over the last decade. The heavy rockabilly influences that made his early recordings so compelling have given way to prominent pedal steels and vintage recording techniques. Stuart's hair, a mullet of truly epic proportions, is just about the only thing that has remained constant over the course of his storied career.

Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, his latest effort, is easily among his most focused, most powerful collections of bedrock country. Kicking off with the punchy "Branded," it's clear that Stuart aims to reaffirm the values and virtues of the style of music he has worked so diligently to preserve. "Well, I'm branded wherever I go/Trying to outrun a bad story everybody seems to know," he shrugs, with a twangy, chicken-plucked guitar figure and insistent drumline backing him. "Country Boy Rock & Roll" draws less heavily from rockabilly than from the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens, and its breakneck tempo serves as an effective reminder that traditional country, when it's done right, incorporates a healthy dose of hell-raising. Stuart carries that idea through the fast-picking instrumental "Hummingbyrd" and swinging "Ghost Train Four-Oh-Ten."

Over the course of his career, Stuart has proven himself more adept at these kinds of uptempo cuts than at ballads, and that's the case on Ghost Train as well. His performance on "Drifting Apart" is just fine, and he resurrects the "recitation" song style on the stirring "Porter Wagoner's Grave." But when he's joined by his wife, Connie Smith, on "I Run to You," it brings Stuart's limitations into sharp relief. Granted, Smith happens to be the finest singer in the history of the country genre, so that might not be a fair comparison, but it's one that Stuart actively invited. "Hard Working Man," an unbearable bit of persecution and paranoia ("In better times/In Old America/We sang the 'Working Man's Blues' with such pride") that seems tailor-made for Tea Party rallies, is an even more significant misstep in that it pulls focus from the album's more timeless themes.

Though the execution of "Hard Working Man" is sorely lacking, the sentiment behind it is honest. In that way, even the one genuinely poor song on Ghost Track still fits with Stuart's overall intentions for the project. More so than anything else, what is striking about the album is Stuart's unabashed sincerity. He approaches traditional country music with a scholar's curiosity and passion, and he has written and performed the songs on Ghost Train with expert skill. There isn't anything the least bit progressive about the album, but Stuart has undoubtedly succeeded in creating a country record that not only preserves but honors the genre's history. [4 Stars]

By Jonathan Keefe


September 7, 2010

The mullet on top of Marty Stuart’s head isn’t the only thing out of fashion in Nashville today. There’s also the 51-year-old Mississippi singer’s commitment to traditional country music, and more specifically his reverence for the The Bakersfield Sound, coupled with rockabilly, and a whiskey splash of honky tonk.

No fewer than six steel guitar players are listed in the credits of Stuart’s bracing, twangy new album, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions. This collection of originals and covers is just about good enough to resurrect Buck Owens from his dusty San Joaquin Valley grave.

Stuart, the iconoclast, recorded this album in Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio B, where classics by Charley Pride, Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings were laid down. Stuart has created songs that are worthy to be placed alongside those records on the shelf. [Grade B]

By D. B.

Sounds Country (Blog)

August 25, 2010

1. Marty Stuart’s new record Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, has been referred to as “traditional country” by several media outlets. When a modifier is added to a genre, it often gives too much credit to the offspring. The corrrect way to describe Marty Stuart’s type of music is “country”, in the same way that Hank Williams is not “Hank Senior” — he is just “Hank.” Stuart has been ignoring the urge to pander to country radio for many years now, and in doing so, is making some of his finest music yet.

2. “Branded”, the leadoff track on the record, echoes Stuarts commitment to the core of country music in both lyrics and music. Riding a stomping rhythm that locks into a Waylon-worthy groove, Stuart sings about being known in every town for his less reputable actions. His solo breaks, on Clarence White’s 1954 Telecaster, give the instrument a workout — as if having Kenny Vaughan in his backing band wasn’t enough.

3. The lyrics echo classic songs from Haggard and Cash, singing about the perils of a negative reputation — whether that be an actual prison sentence, a reputation as a heartbreaker, cheater, drinker, or all of the above. Like so many other artists featured on this site, Stuart succeeds with Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions by being himself and keeping it simple. New artists could learn a lot by following his example in staying true to the rich history and heritage of country music.

The River Runs North

August 28, 2010

Marty Stuart is best when left to his own devices. Since the “no hat” days of the early nineties, Marty has taken control of his records, subsequently producing the masterpiece, The Pilgrim, as well as classics including Country Music and Badlands.

I suspect even those who aren’t fans of true (or traditional) country music can still appreciate that Marty is the “curator” of the legacy.

This album is no exception.

From the opening track, “Branded,” with its sly homage to Merle Haggard, including Roy Nichols-like guitar licks, to a remake of the 1965 Warner Mack hit, “The Bridge Washed Out,” to a lovely duet with wife (and legend) Connie Smith, “I Run To You,” the 1960's country music sound is alive and well, just a bit more bright and shiny.

Standout tracks on this album, in addition to the aforementioned, include, “A World Without You” (my favorite). This track, folks, cannot be mistaken for anything BUT country music in its truest form. Also here is an instrumental version of Ralph Mooney’s “Crazy Arms,” featuring Ralph himself on steel. “Hummingbyrd,” too, is a nice, ringing instrumental. Marty and Ralph collaborated on “Little Heartbreaker,” a bouncy ditty that features some Wynn Stewart-like steel guitar licks.

Not everything works, but the minor nits I have with this CD do nothing to detract from this superior effort by Marty.

Be forewarned: If your idea of country music is dirty dishwater that’s lost most of its foam, you probably won’t like Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions).

If, on the other hand, you love music, and are able to discern between country music junkies and country music junk, you really can’t go wrong surfing on over to Amazon and clicking the “buy” button. [4 Stars]

By Michelle Anderson

Tuesday Guide

August 24, 2010

GRAMMY®-winner and American music icon Marty Stuart releases a traditional country album Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions. With his 14th studio album, Stuart steadily continues to lead the charge in preserving the roots, culture and history of traditional country music. “What inspires me now, is traditional country music,” says Stuart. “It’s the music I most cherish, the culture in which I was raised. It’s the bedrock upon which the empire of country music is built, the empowering force that provides this genre with lasting credibility. It’s beyond trends and it’s timeless. With all that being said, I found traditional country music to be on the verge of extinction. It’s too precious to let slip away. I wanted to attempt to write a new chapter.”

October 13, 2010

Sound: Marty and his Superlatives took a neotraditionalist approach when recording this album, keeping the solid traditions laid down by those that recorded in the historic Studio B 60 years before him. Stuart plays acoustic and electric guitar at an extraordinary level. When listening to Kenny Vaughan play electric guitar on the album, it's enough to make you wonder how Marty ever managed to make good music without him - it's as though the Superlatives have always been there. Ralph Mooney's legendary steel guitar playing conjures up memories of country music from long ago, and the instrumental version of "Crazy Arms" is enough to put a satisfied grin on the face of any country fan who knows their Hank from their Garth. The album has all of the styles that Stuart has played up to this point in his career, including traditional country ("A World Without You," "Bridge Washed Out," "Drifting Apart." rockabilly ("Country Boy Rock & Roll"), outlaw(ish) country ("Branded") and of course, bluegrass ("Mississippi Railroad Blues"). All in all a wonderful album, showing once again that Marty Stuart has a scary amount of talent... more talent than one man alone should be allowed to have. // 10

Lyrics and Singing: The lyrics are, as always, to be commended. However, I feel that they are not quite on par with the masterpiece that Stuart created ten or so years ago with The Pilgrim. Don't get me wrong, the lyrics are good, a whole lot better than most of the crap-tastic country music getting produced nowadays. But for me, none of Stuart's lyrics can compare to anything he done on The Pilgrim, as that was without a doubt his finest work, both lyrically and musically. // 9

Impression: I would say that next to The Pilgrim, this is Marty Stuart's best album ever. I would even go so far as to say that this is better than The Pilgrim, as at least with this album you can play it in any order, whereas with the other album it made absolutely no sense unless you played it front to back. The album is a wonderful tribute to tradition, yet also a shining light towards the future of country music. This album is the light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon of hope telling all country fans that the genre may find its way back to the fundamentals that made it great in the first place. Finest country album of the year, one of the finest country albums of the decade, and definitely in the top 5 country albums of all time. // 10

By LiamS92

The Virginian-Pilot

July 16, 2010

The album’s title says it all: Marty Stuart is haunted by what has come before. But he has always had one foot in the past and one in the present. That doesn’t change on Ghost Train, his new album due to be released August 24.

The sound is modern and radio ready, but its soul is classic country. It isn’t enough that he co-wrote the grim “Hangman” with ex-father-in-law Johnny Cash mere days before the latter’s death. Or that he taps Ralph Mooney – co-writer of the classic tune “Crazy Arms” – to play throughout the disc and co-author the kickin’ “Little Heartbreaker.” Nor is it unexpected to find wife Connie Smith on a couple of tracks.

Having served as president of the Country Music Foundation and played in Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash’s band, Stuart has a lyrical sensibility that hews close to country’s well-traveled highway of fading railroads, broken loves and the working man. But Stuart’s work is never trite, stilted or self-conscious, problems that taint most modern country music.

He is influenced by the past but not a prisoner of it. Having recorded this disc in one of Nashville’s legendary studios, Stuart has turned out a remarkably delicious slice of country pie.

By Larry Printz

Winnipeg Sun

August 22, 2010

You can go home again. Stuart's 15th disc -- cut in the famed Nashville studio where he played his first session -- takes him (and us) back to the glory days of C&W. You get plenty of songs about lovin' and hurtin' and death (including Johnny Cash's final co-write), lots of weeping pedal steel and twangy hillbilly boogie, and a mess of chicken-pickin' guitar slingin'. All aboard. [4 Stars]

Download: Country Boy Rock 'n' Roll, Hangman

By Darryl Sterdan

Witchita Falls Times Record News

August 27, 2010

A staunch defender of country traditionalism, while still plenty capable of burning the strings with the most “progressive” of them, Marty Stuart went back to his roots and settled into Nashville’s legendary RCA Studio B for his new set, Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions). The results remind us that the music of the American common people isn’t dead under a massive mountain of irrelevant radio fluff after all, that it’s there for anyone who looks for it.

From the opening licks of the Haggard-inspired “Branded,” through the stone country of “Drifting Apart,” to the high-energy chicken-pickin’ exuberance of “Country Boy Rock and Roll,” Stuart turns in what is undoubtedly one of the strongest tradition-heavy country albums this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it high on yearly Top 10 lists all over the country.

“Run to You” (featuring Stuart’s songbird wife, Connie Smith), “Hangman” (with Johnny Cash), “Hard Working Man” and Stuart’s always-amazing mandolin picking on the solo “Mississippi Railroad Blues” round out a perfect reminder of what country music was, and is, supposed to be.

Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions) definitely deserves its rating.

Rating A

By Don Chance


September 26, 2010
If this doesn't run out to be the best stone country recording of the year 2010, I'll be hard-pressed to imagine what might top it. The best American roots release of the year thus far, with most of the tunes penned by Marty Stuart himself. Virtually every cut is a gem. Marty does late ex-dad-in-law Johnny Cash mighty proud. Play it!

By Tayres

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