Country Vet Stuart Opens Up His "Soul" on New Album

This appeared in Billboard - August 29, 2005

There's something about an artist having really lived life -- rejoiced in the good moments and struggled through the bad -- that gives their music an extra measure of poignancy. That is particularly true when it comes to a gospel album, and it's evident in the heart and soul that reverberate through every moment on Souls' Chapel by Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives.

"Nothing will prepare you for singing the truth like about 35 years in the music business, financial troubles and a couple trips to jail," says Stuart, who has been twice arrested for driving under the influence. "It will get you really humble and really truthful, and gets you ready to sing out about who and what saved you."

Souls' Chapel goes on sale August 30 in the mainstream market and October 25 in the Christian Booksellers Assn. market. It is the first release on Stuart's Superlatone Records, an imprint he launched through Nashville's Universal South label this year.

The album is shaded by Stuart and the Superlatives' deep appreciation for the Staples Singers. "The way we got to know each other musically is we did a lot of listening. One of those groups that we especially loved was the Staples Singers," Stuart says of how he and Superlatives Harry Stinson, Kenny Vaughn and Brian Glenn bonded over the Staples' music.


Recorded at Stuart's Hendersonville, Tennessee home, Souls' Chapel features classics that include Albert E. Brumley's "Lord, Give Me Just a Little More Time" and Roebuck Staples' "Move Along Train" (with special guest Mavis Staples) alongside such Stuart originals as the title track and "It's Time to Go Home."

He describes the latter as "an old Mississippi Delta groove that I heard in my head and just put a Bible story to it."

Though Stuart has worked in gospel music -- performing with favorites Jerry & Tammy Sullivan and producing a gospel album for Johnny Cash -- this is his first time recording a gospel album himself. He is primarily known as a country artist.

"Like so many performers, the church is where I started," he says. "I've always wanted to do this record, but with my personal life, I never felt like I was ready enough."

Stuart admits that his past, particularly the DUI arrests, may be an obstacle with some Christian music gatekeepers.

"If the church discriminates, it ain't doing its job," he says matter-of-factly, adding that the Bible is full of flawed characters like King David. "If the Christian industry keeps me out of the bookstores ... well, they'll have to talk to God about that."

He hopes the music will open doors, but feels artists outside the Christian community sometimes have had a tough time getting in.

"It's always been a problem for secular artists," Stuart says, noting that some in the industry "see us coming in as a novelty." Stuart says that in the '80s, they had a hard time getting the Cash record placed in some Christian bookstores.

"Where better than the church for people like me, George Jones and Johnny Cash to go to get ourselves in shape enough to sing a gospel song?" Stuart asks.

Souls' Chapel is the first in a trilogy of albums from Stuart. The second, Badlands, focuses on the Native American experience and will be released in October. The third, a live bluegrass album, is due in February.

Stuart also has six books in the works, one of them called "Signs of Our Times." It features his photos of church signs from across the country, including one that said, "Don't worry, Moses was once a basket case."

Stuart is also working on a series of TV specials to be taped in Oxford, Mississippi, which will celebrate Southern writing and culture.

"I feel like I've been pardoned, and I have a playpen all my own now," Stuart says of the artistic freedom he is now enjoying.

By Deborah Evans Price

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