You Shouldn't Have Missed Marty Stuart

This appeared in the Roanoke Times - April 19, 2003

You know country music is in a sad state when Marty Stuart draws a paltry crowd.

In an age when bubble-gum bumpkins fill arenas at the drop of a black cowboy hat, Stuart only managed to sell 1,404 tickets for his Salem Civic Center appearance Thursday night. From the looks of it, only about half the ticket-holders showed up.

In fairness to Stuart, the show was a firemen's benefit that probably wasn't promoted as vigorously as your typical Salem show. Nonetheless, he and his crack band (the Superlatives) kept the energy level high throughout the two-hour show.

Stuart is one of the most talented musicians and singers to come out of Nashville in the past 20 years. His chops were as evident as his oversized pompadour as he traded guitar and mandolin licks with lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan, an ace Nashville session player who toured with Lucinda Williams a few years ago.

The former bluegrass prodigy plowed through his late 1980s and early '90s hits, all of them in the genre he affectionately dubbed "Hillbilly Rock." Songs like "The Whiskey Ain't Working," "This One's Gonna Hurt You" (both songs co-written and sung with Travis Tritt in their original forms), "Tempted" and "Now That's Country" possess a timeless country quality - they sound as if they could've been hits 40 years ago but are still contemporary.

For the pure traditionalists, he picked up the mandolin and sang "This Little Light of Mine" and Bill Monroe's gospel number "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray," which included some fine three-part harmony. The acoustic version of "Long Black Veil" was just as astounding.

Speaking of harmonies, the trio Baillie and the Boys reveled in wonderful singing during their opening set. Led by vocalist Kathie Baillie, the group had a string of folk-country hits in the late '80s and early '90s ("A Fool Such as I," "Oh Heart," "Long Shot") before basically vanishing from the charts. Their performance Thursday proved that they - and Stuart, for that matter - should make it back.

By Ralph Berrier, Jr.

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