Marty Stuart

This appeared on - February 2006

On the heels of the critically-acclaimed Souls' Chapel and intimate portrait of the Lakota Sioux Indians in Badlands, Marty Stuart is set to release LIVE AT THE RYMAN, a live recording that documents a concert Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives (Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Brian Glenn) gave in July 2003 at the fabled home of the Grand Ole Opry.

This concert of traditional bluegrass music was never intended to be released officially, and was recorded for routine archival purposes only. But the ultimate vitality of the performances argued otherwise. "With a natural pedigree in bluegrass music by way of my apprenticeship with Lester Flatt," Stuart says, "I finally made a bluegrass record. It was a happy accident, a one-off evening at the Ryman. Unrehearsed. Unplanned. At the end of the show, the sound man handed me a bootleg tape of the show, and that was what later became my first bluegrass recording." Banjoist Charlie Cushman and fiddle player Stuart Duncan join Stuart and his band, and the set includes as well a rare appearance by the veteran dobro legend Josh Graves.

On LIVE AT THE RYMAN, the magic begins after Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs promises the audience in the house on the evening of July 24, 2003 that they are going to be "royally entertained." Immediately Stuart and band launch into "Orange Blossom Special," followed by ‘50s bluegrass work-outs such as "Shuckin' the Corn", Jimmie Rodgers standards such as Stuart's wry and spry rendition of "No Hard Times," and intense, sad ballads such as "Homesick."

There is the backcountry funk of "Sure Wanna Keep My Wine," and there are touches of rockabilly toward the end of the set, as Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives climax with "Walk Like That" as well as Stuart's well-known "Hillbilly Rock."

In between lay jokes and intros and great speckled birds. It all adds up to a spirited, soulful, fast-moving, completely hand-made acoustic expanse of pickin' and groovin'. "What [Stuart and his band come] up with," the writer Tom Piazza writes in a liner note inside the CD, "is so strong and deft, so wild and precise, so full of spirit, that it could damn near raise the dead – which is, in a sense, what all the good stuff aims for anyway."

Stuart developed his taste for that stuff, after all, from playing as a teenager with no less than Lester Flatt himself. "He wasn't just throwing energy out there. He was one of the master architects and greatest showmen of them all," Stuart says of his august former employer. "He knew how to let a show unfold musically, keep it entertaining, and take care of business along the way."

Stuart's grown into a master himself. He is an accomplished photographer, historian, collector, storyteller, musician, songwriter and archivist; he always has been mindful of country music's place in American culture. His Universal South imprint, Superlatone Records, offers the deeply musical yet fully multi-media focus that the Philadelphia, Mississippi, native has long craved for his interests in Southern culture. After a successful and acclaimed decade in the ‘90s as a platinum-selling recording artist for MCA and later for Sony Music, Stuart now turns his attention to more expansive work.

Stuart has scored six top-ten hits, one platinum and five gold albums, and four Grammy Awards. But his success proves the difficulty of gauging a career in charts alone. He has made lasting music as a front man and in collaboration with virtually every major roots music figure of his era, from Lester Flatt to Bob Dylan. Stuart has produced records for some of the most distinguished artists working today, and many famous names have chosen to record his songs. His energetic enthusiasm has gone outside music, yielding impressive work as a photographer, writer, collector and arts executive.

Now 47, Stuart, who released 14 albums between 1978 and 2003, is an unusually alert man with charisma to burn. To hear him talk about his concerns is to understand why Karen Schoemer, formerly of The New York Times, once wrote that Stuart "understands the heart of country music -- it's glitz and its grime, its roots, and its living traditions" as naturally as other people grasp the notion of getting up in the morning. He is not someone to lose sight of his passions, ever."

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