Stuart Reflects In Songs, Stories

This appeared in The Boston Globe - July 20, 2007

Marty Stuart remarked Wednesday night that he has basically been on the road since the early 1970s. He joined bluegrass legend Lester Flatt as a mandolin prodigy at the tender age of 13, played in Johnny Cash's road band during the 1980s, and has had a career as a solo artist for the past two decades.

But in all of that time, he has almost never played without a band behind him. That made this solo show at Johnny D's something of a rarity. What Stuart did with the occasion, though, turned it into a rare treat.

Stuart is as adept a conservator of country music's heritage as he is a musical practitioner, and that concern always manifests itself in some way during his performances. But he used this solo outing as an opportunity, through songs and stories, to give an 80-minute tour of his musical history and to highlight his formidable talents on the mandolin and electric and acoustic guitars.

He told stories of beginnings -- of sitting on Flatt's tour bus, mandolin in hand, and being taught songs by the great Bill Monroe . Then he demonstrated what he'd learned with one of those songs that has particularly stuck with him, Monroe's "My Last Days On Earth."

He told stories of endings -- of visiting Cash a few days before his death and having a conversation that resulted in the two writing what was likely the last song Cash wrote, "Hangman." The implicit elegy in his performance of the song brought a hush to the room.

He paid tribute to giants like Merle Travis (providing a rumbling "Dark as a Dungeon," and a hilarious recounting of the career advice Travis imparted to him) and Porter Wagoner (putting his own stamp on the Wagonmaster's "A Satisfied Mind").

He played songs from his '90s days as a radio star -- the anthemic "Now That's Country," the Buddy Holly-esque "Tempted" -- and refitted the old-time chestnut, "Come Back to Me, Sweetheart," as electric hillbilly rock.

And he sampled the remarkable music he's been making since he decided to quit playing what he called the "radio game," highlighted by the title song from the album "Badlands," his exploration of another personal concern, the past history and present condition of the Lakota Sioux.

After all that, Stuart's final song, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" -- a standard that has come to signify country music's connection of its past and present -- was a perfectly fitting close to an exceptional evening.

Emerging singer-songwriter Stoll Vaughan opened with a set of distinctive songs and engaging stage presence that suggested we'll be hearing more from him in the future.

By Stuart Munro

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