Marty Stuart Puts The 'Superlative' In Country Music At The Dakota

This appeared in the Star-Tribune - July 29, 2014

A few thoughts about the performance of Marty Stuart and the Fabulous Superlatives Monday night at the Dakota Jazz Club:

Stuart is a first-rate picker on guitar and mandolin. And his aptly named backup band has some top-notch players, too, especially drummer Harry Stinson and guitarist Kenny Vaughan, two of Nashville’s finest. The Superlatives are also fine harmonies singers, which was best demonstrated on their yodeling in harmony on the end of “In The Pines.”

Their 95-minute set covered bluegrass, gospel, hillbilly rock and all kinds of classic-sounding country, including Stuart’s biggest hit “Whiskey Ain’t Working,” a version of “Long Black Veil” and requested covers of George Jones (“Old Old House”) and Dave Dudley(Stuart didn’t know all the words to “Six Days On The Road” but he improvised lyrics in perfect cadence to the tune including this couplet: “I had a big time at the Dakota tonight / if you think I’m happy, you’re right”)

If I had to pick one highlight, it would be “Tempted,” which suggested Buddy Holly-meets-the Mavericks, with some dark, almost surf guitar.

Stuart truly knows country music, which is no surprise to any of his fans who watch his eponymous TV show on cable’s RFD-TV. But he is a historian of all music. He knew that Dudley cut “Six Days On The Road” in Minneapolis and that “Surfin' Bird” was recorded here, too. As for the Trashmen’s hit, he joked: “That’s what taking a bunch of pills and going to the studio will do for you.”  Actually, the trick was using a pencil to warble the recording tape to manipulate the voice of singer/drummer Steve Wahrer.

Speaking of history, the customized Telecaster guitar that Stuart was playing belonged to the late Clarence White of the Byrds.

Stuart let each of the Superlatives sing a number or two, and, during his turn at the micr, guitarist Vaughan reminisced about playing at the Longhorn punk bar in ‘70s. Afterward, he told me he’d met the Suicide Commandos in Denver, his hometown, and then his band, Jonny 3, opened for the Commandos and the Suburbs at the Longhorn. And he even remembered the name of the club’s proprietor, Hartley Frank. Talk about serious memory.

The Cactus Blossoms, a Twin Cities duo, opened with some priceless brotherly harmonies on original material that sounded like the kind of vintage country that Stuart would appreciate.

By Jon Bream

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