Versatility Comes Easy To Stuart

This review appeared in the Palm Beach Post - March 4, 1997

Marty Stuart could have just phoned in.

No opening band. Only a few hundred fans in the audience. His second show on a lazy Sunday night, a time when folks are putting away the lawn tools, coming back from a picnic or sitting down to watch "60 Minutes." And it was taking place in a tent at the St. Lucie County Fair, a mighty big change for a country star used to the adoring throngs of the Grand Ole Opry.

Instead, Stuart and his four-member Rock 'n' Roll Cowboy band plugged in and took off on a seamless, energetic 90-minute tour through country music's favorite hybrids.

Stuart fancies himself somewhat of a mishmash. He was born in Mississippi but now lives in the New South capital of Orlando [Marty actually lives in Hendersonville, TN]. He evokes the spirit of Earl Scruggs, but flaunts his leather pants and his rhinestoned honky-tonk jackets. He sings Johnny Cash gospel out of the respectful side of his mouth, but spits the twang of a country blues ditty from the other cheek.

One moment Sunday night, he was strumming his way through the jaunty anthem like "Hillbilly Rock" (Bruce Springsteen meets Eddie Rabbit). Minutes later, he and the band were rolling around in the wah-wah of "Till I Found You" (Duane Eddy smashed together with Chris Isaak). And at several points, he was sauntering through songs like "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' (a George Jones/Hank Williams duet if ever there was one).

The best part: it wasn't contrived. Some artists wear the "I'm So Versatile" ribbon like a pretentious badge. With Stuart, you get the feeling watching that he'd be playing the same stuff alone in the back of his tour bus.

Match all of this with his sly "I just poured hooch in the punch bowl" approach to music and it simply became a lot of fun.

Stuart was most playful during his strongest songs, which usually had something to do with women or whiskey.

When he launched into the Orbison-like "Tempted," women squealed as he purred, "There's a girl who's after me....and I'm tempted." [The lyrics are "There's a girl trying to steal my heart and I'm tempted."] Early in the show during his hit duet, "The Whiskey Ain't Workin'," he pulled the song over to a stop, gave a hip wiggle and then asked the crowd to fill in the spots where his singing partner Travis Tritt normally would on the record.

But his best moment was when he picked out a modified "Orange Blossom Special" on his acoustic guitar, tailored the lyrics to his Florida crowd and then molded it into Cash's "Nobody Knows" ["Long Black Veil"], the tale of a guilt-ridden man who sleeps with his best friend's wife.

It was a somber moment -- one made even more so by the rowdiness of the rest of the show. But for the faithful fans who stayed through two encores, the show proved to be an intimate romp.

Written by Jeff Houck

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