Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best

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June 29, 1996
Sometimes you wonder if it's a blessing or a curse for Marty Stuart that he's a master of country music styles from bluegrass to boogie. Perhaps the title cut here solves the puzzle for him, for it is a blistering bit of git-along on which honky tonk master Travis Tritt adds his considerable talents. Otherwise, the album ably skitters across many styles: talking country, blues, tender ballads, opening tuning, twangy guitar, echo chamber vocals, and more or less straight country. There's even an interview with bluegrass great Jimmy Martin, who introduces his country music coon dogs (he names them after the country stars they sound like).

Cash Box

July 6, 1996
With each new album, Marty Stuart comes closer and closer to filling the shoes of the legends with which he once toured. At long last, he's starting to bring those years on the road with bluegrass and country legends (Lester Flatt, Johnny Cash for example) into the layers of his soulful readings. When he sings "Shelter From The Storm," one could swear hearing wedding bells pealing in the distance. Stuart's new album contains everything from the strange ("The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow") to the sublime ("Sweet Love," "So Many People"). It's an accurate representation of an often underrated entertainer.

By Wendy Newcomer

Country America

November 1996
If honky tonkin's what Marty Stuart does best, according to his latest duet hit with Travis Tritt, what does he do second best? "Man, I have no idea!" he told me with a laugh, calling from his back porch in rural Tennessee. "Knit?" A somewhat bizarre song, "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow," on his new album features braying coon dogs belonging to bluegrass great Jimmy Martin. Recording the hounds was hilarious, says Marty. "I told my sound engineer, 'Justin, have I got a job for you!'........."

By Neil Ford

Country Beat

Come on in, the Marty Party's still going strong! And guest of honor Travis Tritt helps kick off the festivities on the title track, another killer duet for the award-winning boys. As usual, though, it's Marty's hard-driving blend of upbeat country and deep-rocking roots music that carries the day. Songs like "Country Girls" and "Sweet Love" will sound great this summer blasting from the car stereo with the top down; "I'll Be There For You" suggests that Marty's been listening to U2's Joshua Tree a lot lately; and can you possibly resist a song with the title "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow?" (You won't be able to after you hear this blues-drenched piece of pure fun, and the way it sequeways into "Rocket Ship.") Through it all, though, the Party rages on, and the good times never let up. Hey, like the title says!

[Four Hats -- meaning "An excellent effort all around"]

Country Music

September/October 1996
As much as I love Marty Stuart (he is simply one of the nicest, coolest, most dedicated people I've met in this business), I sometimes fear that a lot of country fans see only one dimension of this multi-dimensional artist.

Mostly they just see the big hair and the frisky banty rooster persona that comes through on strutting, macho-man anthems like "Hillbilly Rock" and "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," one of several hit duets with his buddy Travis Tritt.

The part a lot of folks seem to miss is the soulful songwriter and fervently dedicated musician (he's master of a half-dozen or so stringed instruments) with an almost obsessive knowledge of, and loyalty to, country music and its traditions.

On Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best, his new album, Stuart comes a step closer to merging his obvious and not-so-obvious dimensions in a way that should enable more folks to finally get the Big Picture of what he's all about.

But it's the big-haired banty rooster who's once again front and center on the title tune, another swaggering, male-bonding duet with Tritt.

In a similar vein, enjoyable but rather forgetful songs like "Country Girls" (one of several tunes in this collection co-written by Stuart and Paul Kennerley) and "Country" (from Roger Murrah-Marcus Hummon) milk predictable clichés. They just sound like more over-reaching attempts by Stuart to confirm his already well-established down-home pedigree.

"The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" is a high-octane "Marty Party"-style talking blues that serves as a vehicle for some great instrumental rides. But its playfully surrealistic imagery will probably sail right over the heads of a lot of country folks. "Rocket Ship" (another Stuart-Kennerley collaboration) follows a similarly inspired, but perhaps slightly errant, trajectory.

The cuts on here that really stick to the emotional ribs and showcase Stuart's best and most underplayed dimensions are the ballads and mid-tempo love songs. On his heartfelt rendition of Del Shannon's "Sweet Love," he strikes a find balance between rockabilly jitteriness and sweet soulfulness. The same can be said for "I'll Be There For You" (a solo Stuart composition), which rolls along on an irresistible U2-like guitar-drum track. "You Can't Stop Love" (co-written by Stuart and Kostas) has similarly mesmerizing quality, enhanced by Barry Beckett's soft, swirling accompaniment on B-3.

"Shelter From The Storm" (another Stuart-Kostas collaboration) is yet another stirring ballad that reveals the heart of gold that beats so intensely within this flashy self-proclaimed hillbilly rocker.

I could be dead wrong (wouldn't be the first time), but it seems to me that the more of this softer, more tender side of himself that Stuart reveals to us, the bigger his audience will get.

Country Music Review Page

He must be almost getting past the Peter Pan stage. "Hillbilly Rock" still stands as his best solo effort, but this is close. His good old boy personna is a little annoying at times but he is always willing to try something a little different. The title song is the obligatory duet with Travis Tritt. "Country Girls" has some great acoustic guitar picking and the bluesy "Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" is a great success. On this track there is a hilarious intro by bluegrass legend, Jimmy Martin, in which he tells how he names his hound dogs after various country singers according to the way they bark. Marty is certainly never dull.

Country Standard Time

Marty Stuart continues developing his own version of new traditionalism here, perhaps with a bit more emphasis on his softer side than usual. As on past albums, his best tunes are the weird ones. "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" is a spoken-word song that features bluegrass "King" Jimmy Martin and his country music dogs, whose barks supposedly sound like country legends from Little Jimmy Dickens to Hank Williams. That song leads into "Rocket Ship," in which Marty takes his girl for a ride around the heavens. The surprising feature of this album, however, is its emphasis on love. When Stuart has a great groove to work with, as on the uptempo songs, "Thanks to You," "You Can't Stop Love" and particularly Del Shannon's "Sweet Love," he succeeds magnificently. Unfortunately, on the album's two slow songs, Stuart's shortcomings as a singer become quite apparent. "It might sound corny, old-fashioned and a little square," he sings in "So Many People," and at least on this song, the listener has to agree. Stuart has a knack for turning out very cool-sounding uptempo songs, and for the most part, he continues to mine that talent with success here.

By Brian Wahlert

Country Weekly

September 17, 1996
After the more serious, reflective tone of Stuart's last studio effort, Love and Luck, country's favorite hillbilly rocker Marty Stuart returns here to the formula that has brought him greatest success. While heart-on-the sleeve love songs make up a larger percentage of the package than they have before--partying, dancing and girls, girls, girls are the essence of what Marty has on his mind this time around.

The kick-off song, also the title track, perhaps best exemplifies the fun ahead. Double Trouble tourmate Travis Tritt joins Marty for this high-energy rocker penned by Stuart. Classic '60s rocker Del Shannon's "Sweet Love" works well as '90s rockabilly. The slow-grinding "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" owes a lot to bluesmen like John Lee Hooker and displays Stuart's left-of-center sense of humor in all its wacky glory. The number segues into "Rocket Ship," co-written by Stuart and Paul Kennerley, Marty's partner on his defining hit, "Hillbilly Rock."

Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best sounds like a well-planned reprise of the sound and attitude that has yielded gold for Stuart in days past. Fans looking for a git-down, good-time Marty Party should find all they're hoping for and more.

By Gordon Ely

Entertainment Weekly

July 12, 1996
Stuart has smarts, taste, great guitar chops, and he's a good lookin' cuss; the sole minus is an ordinary voice. All told, that adds up to plenty. He parties nearer the top with every album, and this is his best major-label outing yet.

The Beatleish guitar of "Thanks To You," the rotgut Delta blues of "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow" (in which Marty spies "a damsel in dis dress"), and other smart little touches raise What I Do way above country's current crop of corn. A-

By Tony Scherman

Louisville Courier-Journal

January 4, 1997
It's rare when an artist truly understands his own strengths and weaknesses. Marty Stuart is one of those artists. Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best is more than the title of his latest release. It's a statement of style.

Stuart doesn't dabble in the country fad of sappy ballads -- which a friend of mine dismisses as "chick songs." He's straight-ahead, kick-butt country rock. Even his romantic "Shelter From The Storm" manages to stay solid. Unlike most of John Michael Montgomery's hits, it's hard to picture any Stuart song being sung at June weddings across the country.

On "Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow," Stuart is accompanied by "King" Jimmy Martin and his country music coon dogs and beagles. Not standard fare for a Nashville release. Stuart also does a tune called "Rocket Ship," with a twangy guitar intro that would do Duane Eddy proud.

If honky tonkin's one of the things you do best, check out Marty Stuart. If you want to audition songs for a summer wedding, look elsewhere.

By Laura Younkin

Modern Screen's Country Music

Marty Stuart's a unique case. He's so incredibly talented, so well versed in (and a part of) country music history, and so damn cool, that it's hard not to love him even if he just stands on stage and blows his nose.

Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best is an okay album with some hard blues ("The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow"), another rabble-rousing Travis Tritt duet (the title track), and some heavenly Beatlesque/Everlys pop ("Thanks To You"), pretty ballads, nifty new-trad and some obvious pickin' to beat the band.


It's just that when it comes to Marty, you expect that career album every time out and this just isn't it. This, although a definite keeper, won't make my '96 Top 10. And when it comes to a Marty party, that's a little disappointing. Oh well, guess I'll have to crank this up a few more times and catch him on tour with Travis. Marty albums have a tendency to grow on you so that by the fourth or fifth listening, worlds are being revealed.

Let's hope that's the case with this one.

By Mike Greenblatt

Morning Call (The)

June 22, 1996
Honky tonk, as we all know, is that radio-ready, redneck good-time-lousy-rhyme dimestore cowboy music. It all sounds alike and, yep, in the title-cut of Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best (a duet with Travis Tritt), Marty Stuart's got one just like all the rest. But once Stuart's got that out of the system, he's ready to do what he really does best -- put country, rockabilly and garagery rock together to mess around with each other like kissin' kin out back of the barn. Sure, some cuts are more proper than others but even "Country Girls" has the smarts of an early Elvis-style rocker; and the straight-ahead red, white and true blue "Country" drops to at least one knee to testify about a good ol' boy. Stuart's at his sly best and having a heck of a lot of fun with "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow." This bluesy slink through the ooze between George Thorogood's steel-tipped boots and Eric Burdon's "Spill the Wine" begins with bluegrass "King" Jimmy Martin introducing his coon dawgs (which bark like the country legends they're named after) and seques into the punky reverb-fueled "Rocket Ship." Shades of the '60s (complete with sitar) surface in "You Can't Stop Love" -- listen for The Castaways' "Liar Liar" fade out. Naturally, it wouldn't be a Marty party without the slow ones; the midtempo "Thanks To You," which dares a faint "Last Train To Clarksville" riff); the intimate, vulnerable "So Many People," and, of course, the gently heart-tugging "Shelter From The Storm," written with one of Stuart's favorite collaborators, Kostas Lazarides. Considering the strengths of Stuart's last five discs and now this, his Double Trouble show tonight at the Bud Light Amphitheatre at Harvey's Lake and August 29 at the Allentown Fair should be a killer.

By Diana Velois

Music City News

July 1996
For some time, Marty Stuart has been viewed as a country music historian, a photographer, a new outlaw with Travis Tritt, a spokesman for Nashville, bluegrass music, rhinestones and the Grand Ole Opry and part-time evangelist. It's no surprise that it has been hard to capture all the facets of his persona into a recording situation.

His last effort, "Marty Party" was not quite a greatest hits collection, but it did have some previously released material. On this new album, we find what musical stand Stuart is perched on. He is able to combine pyschobilly and hillbilly with equal ease. The album starts out with the barreling title cut, a duet with Travis Tritt. He doesn't let up on the beat with Country Girls. The middle of the album takes a left turn when Stuart does some talking blues on The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow, which features some barking dogs. Now that's different. Rocket Ship continues the theme. Stuart wrote or co-wrote much of the material included. Some of the best cuts include Sweet Love, Shelter From The Storm and Country, which offers visual images galore.

For too long, Marty Stuart has been considered a personality more than recording artist. I think that's about the change.

My Kind Of Country

May 23, 2012

Released in June 1996, Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best marks the final album of the hit-making portion of Stuart’s career. His sixth release for MCA Records, and produced as usual by Tony Brown, the album had four singles and peaked at #27 on the charts.

The lead single and title track reunited Stuart with Travis Tritt for their first duet in four years. Released in April of 1996, “Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best” wouldn’t be nearly as successful as their previous collaborations, missing the top twenty completely, and peaking at #23. It didn’t help that the song rocked harder than their previous work and Stuart’s growly vocal may’ve been a slight turn-off for radio programmers. To make matters worse, the mix of loud guitars and screaming steel hasn’t aged well. But the lyric, about a misunderstood boy who’s born to honky tonk, is still relevant today.

Second single “Thanks To You” wouldn’t faire much better on the charts, peaking at #50 that same year. But Stuart and Gary Nicholson wrote an outstanding lyric that holds up extremely well today. A love song, it’s a thank you note to the woman who saved the man’s life:

I searched for love my whole life through
Then it came like a blinding flash from the blue
Thanks to you
Empty nights and long lost days
Roving eyes and rambling ways are through
Thanks to you

“You Can’t Stop Love,” a guitar-heavy mid-tempo number co-written by Stuart and Kostas, peaked at #26 in 1997. Not as commercial as the previous two singles, it amazes me this garnered more airplay than “Thanks To You,” a much better single choice for the late 90s. But it’s still a good song, although the moody and somewhat dark arrangement is a better fit for Gary Allan than for Stuart.

A final single, “Sweet Love” came in the spring of 1997 but failed to chart. Written by rock and roll singer Del Shannon, “Sweet Love” was far too out of step with the times upon its release. Stuart, meanwhile, seems overproduced a bit and the loud guitar-heavy accompaniment drowns out his vocal.

As “Sweet Love” aptly illustrates, at his core Stuart is an individualist. By not bucking to trends or trying to sound like his contemporaries, his albums come off unique to the man creating them. That downside is that uniqueness doesn’t have a home on country radio. But commercial aspirations aside, it makes for a very interesting listening experience.

The most unique of all the songs on the album is “The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow,” which features Bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin along with his country music coon dog and beagle hounds. The track opens with Martin giving a recitation as though he and Stuart are relaxing on a porch in the country. The barking dogs give way to bluesy number heavy on guitar and originality but low on appeal. This is an acquired taste kind of song, and out of place on a commercial country record.

Thankfully, Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best isn’t heavy on such artistic statements. “I’ll Be There For You” is the most modern sounding of the album’s songs, with what appears to be a drum machine heavy arrangement. Written by Stuart, it’s one of the more tender moments and showcases him as the man his girl can lean on in times of trouble:

I’ll be there ...... everyday
Loving you in every way
I’ll stand beside you, your whole life through
I’ll be true

Equally tender is “Shelter From The Storm,” another tune about being the man who stands beside his girl. Written by Stuart and Kostas, it’s an effective ballad complete with stirring acoustic guitar. The only downside is Stuart’s vocal, which gets in the way of the song by being a bit too processed.

The album also has its share of rockabilly moments, too. “Country Girls,” written by Stuart and Paul Kennerley is as predictable as it sounds, a song about girls from the country. But this song smartly avoids the trappings of such songs released today – there’s isn’t any short shorts or mention of a girl’s “hotness.” But while it’s easy on the ears, it does come off as filler. The same can be said for “Rocket Ship” which comes complete with a jerky melody that just wasn’t my taste.

The equally mellow “Country” is an effective ballad and one of the better tracks thanks to the gorgeous production, which smartly keeps from fighting the overall track. The same is true for “So Many People,” an introspective number about lost love:

I’m not nearly wise enough
To be giving this advice
But I’ve seen a thing or
Once or twice
And every broken hearted fool
That I’ve ever met
Has somebody somewhere
That they cannot forget

Overall, Honky Tonkin’s What I Do Best is a mixed bag finding an individualist stuck between the confines of commercialism and the freedom of forging his own path. The music suffers because of this but it makes a nice segway into the next chapter of Stuart’s career, which began with The Pilgrim in 1999. The album is out of print, but used copies can easily be found on Amazon.

Grade: B

By Jonathan Pappalardo

New Country

July 1996
True story. One weekday morning last year, I was sitting in a Waffle House near Opryland when a long black sedan roared up in a cloud of gravel dust. The lobby door swung open and the damnedest figure I've ever seen swaggered up to the counter. He'd thrown on a long Western coat over some pajamas and slung on a pair of finely detailed cowboy boots, and his dark hair stood on end like a porcupine's quills.

While he ordered up a coffee to go, he kidded with the three waitresses, treating each like the finest beauty he'd ever seen. (My scattered-and-smothered hash browns took longer than usual.) Once the coffee arrived, he breezed over to the jukebox and gave it the once-over, presumably looking for his records. They were there. Satisfied, he took a swig of Waffle House java. And with that, Marty Stuart and his big black sedan rocketed off in the same cloud of dust.

That's why I find it surprising that people ever doubted Marty Stuart's sincerity about country music. You wouldn't think a guy who drove Ernest Tubb's bus and backed up Johnny Cash (not to mention frequents Waffle Houses) would have much to worry about in that department. But in 1989 when MCA released Stuart's Hillbilly Rock album, which rescued his career from commercial oblivion, critics griped that its rocked-up energy and sound didn't jibe with lyrics about loving hillbilly music.

Subsequently, Stuart, like Hank Williams, Jr., had to spend his next few records, specifically 1992's snarling This One's Gonna Hurt You, spelling out just what country was and wasn't, pausing along the way to throw in a few bone-crunching rockers every time. It shouldn't have mattered but, since it did, Stuart set about defining country as any damn thing he wanted to include on a record, whether it was a bluegrass tune, a revved-up Cash cover, an R&B number or a spoken-word recitation. More often than not, he made it work.

Stuart's new album Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best is as contradictory a record as you might expect from a man who drives a gleaming sedan to a Waffle House in pajamas and cowboy boots. All once formulaic and adventurous, alternating run-of-the-hit-mill fare with surprising song choices and odd incidental flourishes, Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best is a deceptive title for a record whose best moments fuse country, mid-60's rock and Everly Brothers-era pop into a hybrid that's commercial, catchy and pretty far from what a purist would consider honky tonk. When it clicks, the only thing that matters is the fire in Stuart's voice, the spirit in his playing, the undeniable charm of the songs.

The title track provides the requisite boys-night-out bender with Travis Tritt; Stuart and Tritt banter as effectively as ever, though the routine is by now familiar. However, the next cut, "Country Girls," is a killer, riding an agressive, stuttering electric-guitar riff over a melody that could have come off an early Nick Lowe record. Even better are Stuart's version of the late Del Shannon's "Sweet Love," a swell pop song with an irresistable "down, down, down, d-down, down" chorus; the anthemic "II'll Be There For You," with its chiming sitar(!) and burbling electric-guitar intro reminiscent of Paul Simon's "Graceland"; and "Rocket Ship," with a studly bass voice counting down to blast-off in Stuart's bad mother of an automobile. When the music is this energetic, committed and well-crafted, questions about its honky-tonk fidelity seem petty indeed.

Except that Stuart keeps making them an issue. On Roger Murrah and Marcus Hummon's faintly grotesque "Country," Stuart paints a picture of a man who supposedly exemplifies the term, a man who reminds the singer of "that part of me that can't be nobody else." If he's such an individual, though, then why does he remain such a faceless stereotype from his John Deere cap down to his red, white and blue blood? (He's such a demographic composite that he's got "two kids and a half.") When Stuart reaches for big statements, he sounds as blustery as Bocephus as well.

Even when Stuart stumbles, though (as on the oddball recitation novelty "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow," which opens with the Opry's Jimmy Martin introducing his coon dogs and segues into a grinding Muddy Waters' rip), his mix-mastering of influences of old and new is still something to behold.

What other country star in this radio-dictaged age would devote four minutes to a blues narrative about riding around listening to rock singer Sheryl Crow and then finish off his record with Jimmy Martin's lusty, commercially unfashionable yodel? On Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best, Marty Stuart flexes the part of his musically omnivorous soul that's most country--the part that says he's going to do whatever the hell he wants. [Three stars]

By Jim Ridley

New York Daily News

July 16, 1996
It's hard not to like a song like "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow," which opens with old-time bluegrass star Jimmy Martin introducing his dogs (named Hank Sr., Little Jimmy Dickens, etc.) and segues into pure Delta blues. But this rockabilly, roadhouse and rhythm 'n' blues set is filled with nifty hooks and spirited party songs. Travis Tritt adds a lot to the title song, and the album ends with a winning and gentle "So Many People." [Four stars]

By Bill Bell

News-Journal (Daytona Beach, FL)

August 23, 1996
Marty Stuart, about the only country cat who dresses in gaudy, Porter Wagoner-style duds anymore, says he was hanging out with bluesman John Lee Hooker, pop-blueswoman Bonnie Raitt, rocker Tom Petty, and country folk Johnny Cash, Grandpa Jones and Earl Scruggs--all within one recent week.

To top it off, that same week found him playing at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night, attending a black church the next morning, and later cataloging some Hank Williams Sr. memorabilia he had just purchased.

Given such musical vibes, Stuart's new album might seem disappointing--after such a build-up, it fails to deliver the cow-punk abandon of Dwight Yoakam's latest work.

But that's okay--Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best lives up to its title. That's no small feat in an age when there's little middle ground between Hank Jr's cartoonish boogie-tonk and all the young hat acts who timidly mother their guitars like Cabbage Patch dolls.

Stuart treads that middle ground admirably, while often recalling vintage rockers in the process: Buddy Holly on "I'll Be There For You," Duane Eddy on the turbo-twangy "Rocket Ship," even mid-period Beatles with the sweet guitar hook on "Thanks To You."

Plus Stuart isn't afraid to get as silly as Hank Jr. (only not as often). Here it's on the grinding, bragging-stud blues of "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow."

Why, the ditty even features a talking intro in which bluegrass musician Jimmy Martin presents his "country music coon dogs and country music beagle hounds." Seems Martin names his dogs after the likes of Hank Sr., Tom T. Hall, Earl Scruggs--whatever country star they sound like when they bark.

Martin, you best name a hound after Marty--he's one honky-tonk cat who's got a lot of bite. [3-1/2 stars]

By Rick de Yampert

Red Hot Country

June 1996
The Marty Party continues on with Marty's newest release on MCA, opening with the self-titled track, "Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best," a fast drinking party song sung with his favorite partner Travis Tritt. The album quickly slides into Country Girls, a heartfelt salute to the country life we all dream about. From there is a loving tribute, "Thanks To You."

By far, though, the strongest song in the collection is quietly waiting four tracks down, "Shelter From The Storm." This simple ballad by Stuart and Kostas has an emotional punch not heard in quite some time. Marty's vocals on this song ring so true you can hear the love in his voice. Make room Vince, there is another balladeer on the scene. I can only hope MCA and Country Radio grasp his song. From this point, Marty takes us on a Country dance, complete with a bluesy, sexy drive down the backroads of Mississippi on "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow." MEOW!

The album isn't just the newest collection from this Country Soul Singer but a gift from him to the world. Marty closes the show with a Roger Ferris tune "So Many People." This song offers hope to the world and you can tell from Marty's rendition it is coming straight from his soul. So, put on your boots, plug in the CD player and fall in love with some real Country Music! Marty Stuart's got a Rocket Ship worth catching a ride on! Don't be late.

By Brenda Cowan


August 1996
A honky-tonk rocker with big hair, Marty Stuart mostly serves up energetic but predictable fare on his new album. There's a rowdy duet with his country-macho soulmate Travis Tritt. There are supercharged tracks featuring his deft mandolin, dobro, and slide guitar licks. And there are strutting tongue-in-cheek tributes to his rural roots like the comically surreal "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow." But the best moments come when Stuart settles down and softens up a bit. On "Shelter From The Storm," he reveals an earnest soulfulness not always evident amid the playful posturing and high-octone honky-tonk of his previous albums. [Three stars]

By Bob Allen

Tucson Weekly

October 3, 1996
Part of the fun of a new Marty Stuart album is the sound bites scattered among the tracks--here, it's bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin introducing his singing coon dogs and letting go with a hair-raising yodel. You see, Marty is a fan, has been since he was knee-high to a blue-tick hound, and these little gems are a bow to country music's past. Stuart's style also is an homage to country's past, but with a contemporary sensibility. There's more to Stuart than the "Marty Party" image and Honky Tonkin' is a fine example of his range. From the rowdy title track--another of a series of duets with Travis Tritt--to a handful of tender love songs highlighted by "So Many People," Stuart shows increasing confidence and dexterity with his winning formula. [Three stars]

By Pam Parrish

USA Today

July 26, 1996
Marty Stuart left his mama at 13 to hit the road as a mandolin player in Lester Flatt's bluegrass band. He's now so savvy about country music and so darned likable that one forgives his vocal shortcomings and just enjoys his good taste. On his new album, Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best, he's dug up some fine country material, nestles into a perfect rocking groove on Del Shannon's "Sweet Love" and piles his wit in the self-written low-down blues story-song, "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow."


July 18, 1996
Unless you despise all things country, there's always something to enjoy on a Marty Stuart album. He mixes up a flavorful, stylistic stew of rock 'n' roll, blues, bluegrass, country and honky tonk. The results have never been tastier.

Stuart's greatest strength is his genuine love for music. Toss in his top-notch guitar skills and a voice that understands what each style requires, and you have a refreshingly spirited sound. Having paid his dues with Lester Flatt, Doc Watson, Vassar Clements and Johnny Cash, Stuart stands out as one of Nashville's most well-educated frontmen. Nor does he turn his back on his influences.

By Rob Hubbard

Washington Post

August 28, 1996
On the title track of Marty Stuart's new album, Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best (MCA), Travis Tritt sings the duet vocal and seems to incite his buddy into a swaggering roar that sets the tone for the whole recording. Stuart shares the electric guitar duties with northern Virginia's Steuart Smith. Together they create a crunching rhythm on song after song, and Stuart has to belt out his vocals just to keep them out front. When he announces over a juttery, impatient beat that he's "gonna find me a country girl," he shouts to the band, "Rock on," and they do just that. And he is surely the first Nashville star to write a song called "Rocket Ship" ("Come on baby, take a trip with me") built around a surf-guitar riff.

Stuart is a dazzling picker and his voice radiates excitement on the funny, up-tempo songs. Neither his voice nor his lyrics, though, are really up to the demands of the slower material, such as "Shelter From The Storm" or "I'll Be There For You." He's at his best when he takes an obscure old song such as Del Shannon's "Sweet Love" and turns it into modern country with twangy, Beatlesque guitars and a drawling, reckless vocal.

By Geoffrey Himes


September 1996

Dating right back to Buck Owens, the honky-tonk tradition has always been open to ideas and trends from all types of music; hell, Buck even had screaming teens requesting "Act Naturally." So when picking prodigy-turned-honky-tonk-honcho Marty Stuart and his band the Rock and Roll Cowboys roll into town, you can expect a flavorful mix of honky-tonkin', rockin' and rollin', twangin' and twitchin.' Honky Tonkin's What I Do Best, his latest, is all that and more.

The album fulfills the boast of the title straightaway: Kicking off with a hiccuping guitar lick and a fiddle moan, Stuart's vocal spar with "No Hats" compadre Travis Tritt on the opening "Dancing, Juking and Fighting" is a hoot from the get-go.

After stints in bands from Lester Flatt to Johnny Cash (and countless other greats), Stuart's guitar work is steeped in tradition even while venturing widely outside that tradition. "I'll Be There For You" adds a Southern accent and bootclomp beat to a U2 guitar ring, and "Thanks To You" is pure Harrison/Beatles economy of melody and propulsion.

Stuart taps the richness of his myriad influences with the mastery -- but not the self-conscious eclecticism and quirkiness -- of Dwight Yoakam. In addition to the aforementioned British-isms, Stuart navigates country-rock, John Lee Hooker-style Delta blues, and contemporary country with complete command and unusual ease.

"Country Girls" is a head-long, no-speed-limit rush, with Roy Huskey, Jr.'s upright bass and Stuart's guitar riffs setting the pace. "Rocket Ship" would fit in (and stand out) on any power country radio station, and the dobro-laced "Country" is a portrait of the quintessential, "Stone country" man: "He's validated, unadulterated country." (He's also a "lifetime, die-hard democrat," an interesting detail in this election year.)

The unexpected, high-wire highlight of the set is the late-night Delta strut of "The Mississippi Mudcat and Sister Sheryl Crow," which opens with bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin demonstrating how he named his dogs after country music stars based on their barks (the dogs' barks, that is). (Martin also closes the album with an astounding two-tone, self- harmonizing yodel.)

Despite substantial credentials as a picker, Stuart is not flashy; just unrelentingly solid, melodic and memorable. Rock and Roll Cowboy Gary Hogue's steel work is as cool as a Hawaiian breeze, and drummers Greg Stocki and Steve Arnold know when to kick and when to be slick. And the dying art of rhythm guitar is gloriously revived by Stuart, Brad Davis and others.

Stuart's limitations as a vocalist are all-but-forgotten on "Shelter From The Storm" (one of two songs Stuart penned with Kostas) and the strikingly heartfelt closer "So Many People," a pared-down ballad in the true traditional mold. Stuart does not possess an exceptionally distinctive "style," but it's that economy of delivery that rings true.

One of my favorite albums so far this year.

by Ed Hewitt

Rated: 4

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