2 Leaders Of Hillbilly Rock Hybrid

This appeared in the New York Newsday - May 1993

A few years ago, Marty Stuart released an album called "Hillbilly Rock" that perfectly defined the niche he made for himself in country music. His music blends the requisite ancestor worship (Tex Ritter, Ernest Tubb, Lester Flatt and, of course, Hank Williams Sr.) with a youthful sensibility shaped by rock and roll. The first song on Stuart's latest album says it all: "Me & Hank & Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Thursday night at Westbury, Stuart and his opening act, the unstoppable Sammy Kershaw, staked their claim as leaders of this recently fecund hybrid, too country to be "country rock" but hipper than country's so-called new traditionalism.

Stuart may look like a kid (even though he's in his early 30s), but he's been performing for more than half of his life. He started on the road at 13 playing mandolin with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt's band, and spent six years touring with Johnny Cash. Stuart cited the influence of these and other Hall of Famers in performing "Long Black Veil," a song so venerable as an Appalachian porch jam, but made accessible to '60s rockers in a haunting rendition by The Band.

But Stuart's more modern outlook sometimes goes too far. "Tempted," part Everly Brothers and part Bruce Springsteen, would have been sufficiently urbane without the enhancement of a disco-ball light show. The same corny lighting--but more of it--just about ruined "Hey Baby." Smoke machine effects couldn't hurt "High On A Mountain Top," with its harmonies sweet as an embrace. But you couldn't help but feeling that, for a man so enraptured by tradition, Stuart's show erred a few millimeters on the side of slickness.

Review written by Wayne Robins

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