Marty On A Mission

Stuart trying to save country, an album at a time

This appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch - May 11, 2006

Keep it real. The hip-hop mantra applies to country music, too. There's simply no substitute for authenticity.

Take Marty Stuart. Like Coca-Cola, he's the real thing.

Country music's conscience headlines the floral Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden tonight, kicking off the Groovin' in the Garden series. On exhibit: Stuart's curvy career that dates to age 13 and playing bluegrass with Lester Flatt & the Nashville Grass. Solo since the late 1980s, Stuart has ventured from recording three-minute-ditties such as "Hillbilly Rock" to certified classic albums such as 1999's The Pilgrim.

He has become the heart and soul of country music. And he sees problems.

"I think it's in a state of church versus state," Stuart said by phone last week from his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. "If you want to play the real stuff, you have to fly under the radar."

That's what Stuart has done since The Pilgrim. Despite releasing a spate of albums on major labels, his singles rarely squeeze onto radio station playlists nowadays. Instead, he depends on word of mouth, concerts and XM radio station channels such as Hank's Place (XM-13) for exposure.

And of late, there has been a wealth of music from Stuart. His first gospel album, Souls' Chapel, came in August. Two months later, he issued Badlands, an album that documents the pitiful plight and treatment of American Indians. Then in February, Stuart cranked out Live at the Ryman, his first all-bluegrass album.
He isn't done.

"The next record I've got coming out, which will be my fourth in a year, is Compadres," Stuart said. "It's an album of duets. I've got one on there with Merle Haggard on 'Farmer's Blues.' There's one of me and Johnny Cash, one with B.B. King. And there's a song on there that I recorded using Jimmie Rodgers' guitar."

Stuart said his next album is tentatively titled Rhinestone Blues. He also may have an instrumental disc and another gospel album. Time, there just isn't enough. He said he constantly wishes there was more time to make more music.

"Every single day," he said. "I get up every morning about 6:30 or 7, and the next thing I know it's 10 at night."

Another project near to Stuart's heart should hit stores by February. He's producing an album for Country Music Hall of Fame member Porter Wagoner, long and oddly overlooked for the incredibly deep substance within his music.

"Next February will be Porter Wagoner's 50th anniversary on the Grand Ole Opry," Stuart said. "It's going to be a blood-cutting country album. Whoa boy, just you wait. The demos are better than anything that's out right now."

Classify Stuart's work with Wagoner as yet another major step in his ongoing quest to salvage country music's authenticity.

"You need to watch authenticity, and we're getting away from that," Stuart said. "Johnny Cash brought a story to the table. Merle Haggard brings stories. It was like they brought letters from home, from where they came from. Now, it's a homogenized society."

By Tom Netherland

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