Stuart, His 'Fabulous' Team Of Musicians Hit A Home Run With Latest CD

This appeared in the Encore Sun Journal - May 31, 2012

Every year, that harbinger of spring and monarch of summer connects me to home. For me, home is not in the “Nation” that Red Sox fans claim as the center of the universe. You see, I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, and home is “back home.”

Back home — where I grew up listening to Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck on AM transistor radio, where people still say, 'Yes ma’am,' and roll their hair on Saturday nights for Sunday morning church — has also got me stuck on Marty Stuart’s latest release, Nashville, Volume I: Tear the Woodpile Down.

Now any baseball fan worth his peanuts knows that the Cardinals are a first-class organization with a glorious tradition. But who would be so bold as to call a team “fabulous superlatives?” Not even Red Sox Nation-ites would get that braggadocio.

But Marty Stuart would. That’s what he calls his band. It’s not just Marty Stuart, ace solo artist. But it’s Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. And bully for Stuart for dubbing the moniker, because the musicians who play behind him are truly that good.

Kenny Vaughan on the acoustic and electric guitar looks like a cowboy Buddy Holly, but burns the strings like Bob Gibson blazed a fastball. Harry Stinson pounds percussion like Lou Brock on the base line. Paul Martin, primarily on bass, takes up tic guitar, piano and organ as seamlessly as the consummate utility man Jose Oquendo. Brian Glenn takes a spell on bass as well. Gary Carter (no, not the same Gary Carter who sank the Red Sox 1986 World Series dreams) and Robby Turner keep truly traditional country music alive with their fidelity to the steel guitar. Then there are Kenny Lovelace and Hank Singer on fiddle, and Buck Trent on electric banjo. I believe that makes nine.

And not to offend anyone in these parts, but as a Cardinal fan I’m also a National League fan. I find the notion of a designated hitter sacrilegious. No long ball can be as exciting as hit-and-run plays and stolen bases. Albert who? I’m still grumpy about the additional league divisions and drawn-out pennant races. I find that the older I get, the more I gravitate toward tradition.

Thank goodness Marty Stuart is doing the same. Stuart and I are about the same age. The difference is he went to Nashville when he was 13 to play at the Grand Old Opry while I was back home watching Buck Owens on "Hee Haw."

After receiving his education from legends like Lester Flatts and the recently departed Earl Scruggs, Stuart went on a bender with outlaw country music. Before bling came to the hip-hop scene, Stuart took Porter Wagoner’s rhinestones to a level of audacious flash. And Steven Tyler never wore tighter leather pants than Stuart did. Somehow Stuart managed to combine punk rock hair with 19th century Andrew Jackson scarves into a trademark style.

But through the trends and search for self, Stuart’s masterful musicianship on guitar and mandolin kept coming back home. Tear the Woodpile Down is an homage to traditional country music that springs from the roots and fields of rural America.

The liner notes (something you don’t get from downloads) written by Stuart read like a confession and love letter. His deference to Merle Haggard, George Jones, and his longtime boss Johnny Cash proves his deep appreciation for a truly American music that has become lost in a digital world.

Stuart concludes his note with, “Today the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee, is play country music. So therefore I say, Tear the Woodpile Down.”

And on this CD, Stuart does indeed. Several songs harken back to crying-in-your-beer melodies. This is the music I remember from back home. Every Saturday morning, my dad used to take me to town with him. The stops were reliable as Tinkers to Evers to Chance. Barber shop to bank to tavern. He’d fill my hands with quarters that I could squander on skee ball and the juke box.

Stuart reminds us that the best music can be the most simple. It’s not lonely music — it’s lonesome. There’s a beautifully nostalgic difference. “A Song of Sadness,” featuring vocals from Lorrie Carter Bennett (yes, of that Carter family) brings back memories of Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette.

But Stuart can’t help himself from going on a tear on a couple of songs. “Hollywood Boogie,” a reference to Nashville as country’s version of star-studded and superficial Hollywood, reminds us of just how fast Stuart’s fingers can move.

When I saw Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives in concert, I was as blown away by Stuart’s command of the guitar as I was when I saw Eric Clapton or Ricky Skaggs. I happened to get a chance to meet him after the show. I told him, “Marty Stuart, I just love you.” And his response was as back home as you can get: “Well, Darlin’, bless your heart, I just love you, too. Give me a hug.”

What I truly love isn’t Stuart himself, but rather the tradition, the honoring of legends, the foundation that stays strong amid a nanosecond world. It’s a slow-moving game that whiles away summer nights in a luxuriously languishing harmony of many players, each spotlighted but somehow blending together. It’s fabulous and superlative and like sliding into back-home.

By Emily Tuttle

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