From The Heart -- Stuart and Haggard Honky Tonk in Dixon

This appeared in the Fairfield Daily Republic - July 11, 2003

Strange as it may sound, it's possible to be too successful.

Country singer Marty Stuart released The Pilgrim in 1999, a critically acclaimed album that ultimately drove Stuart out of the songwriting spotlight for a time.

Stuart spent a number of years writing songs for other artists and scoring films such as 2000's All the Pretty Horses. The Nashville resident only recently released an album of his own, the simply titled Country Music, which came out July 1.

"It was an awful job (writing Country Music). It was not an easy job. I just didn't have anything to say for a couple of years. I asked Johnny Cash how he followed up his successful albums and he said, 'I can't really help you. But you can't go back. You just can't,' " Stuart said in a telephone interview.

Stuart did go back, in a sense, to his family farm in Mississippi.

"It was home," Stuart said. "That was the biggest thing. That was where I first come to country music. The farm has a timeless element. I tend to get real quiet there. I can listen to my heart there."

The result is a 12-song album that Stuart felt comfortable putting out after The Pilgrim.

"I don't know that Country Music is that much different from my other stuff. There are some moments that lean harder on traditional country music . . . Making records is easy; coming up with the songs is hard," Stuart said.

The album features a duet with country legend Merle Haggard called "Farmer's Blues," which was co-written by Stuart's wife Connie Smith. Haggard will join Stuart on his Electric Barnyard Tour, which comes to the Dixon County Fairgrounds today. The gates open at 4 p.m. with music starting at 6 p.m.

The summer road show was Stuart's idea, borne of his love of playing small venues.

"I've been on tour for three years basically. I requested my booking agent to book me in small places. You know, get the band together and that sort of thing. So we played small towns during this time," Stuart said.

"The more I played small towns, the more I fell in love with it. I love the fact that there was no pressure about it."

Being on the road all the time can be a strain, Stuart said.

"You get sick eating deli food every day. But it's an addiction and a way of life that I dearly love. It takes a reason to get on the road," Stuart said.

Touring with a legend like Haggard is reason enough for Stuart.

"I love rolling up my sleeves and getting into the trenches with Merle Haggard. That's great. Touring with Merle is like watching Babe Ruth swatting them out of the park," Stuart said.

Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, the Old Crow Medicine Show and BR549 will also perform today with Stuart and Haggard.

By Shawn Miller

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