Twang-Master Marty Stuart Ready To Unleash 'Good, Solid Country Music'

This appeared in The Tennessean - October 5, 2002

Marty Stuart says it's been a boot camp kind of summer for him and his new band.

''We've played everything from cornfields to honky-tonks to fairgrounds to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last Saturday, the Grand Ole Opry this week, and the Philadelphia Folk Fest,'' says the irrepressible country rocker, who participates in the big OpryFest celebration this weekend.

The band, which includes magnificent guitar slinger Kenny Vaughan, is named with the same sense of eccentric grandeur that goes into his rhinestone-encrusted stage outfits.

They are The Fabulous Superlatives. And they will embark on Stuart's first tour in years next spring, following a new studio album due this winter from his new label, Sony.

Stuart's return to active music making will be welcomed by fans who made him one of Nashville's beacons of tradition and showmanship of the 1990s. His last record was 1999's The Pilgrim, a stirring story album that blended all of Stuart's colors, from bluegrass to rocked-up honky-tonk and prefigured the O Brother, Where Art Thou? boom with guest appearances by Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris.

The Pilgrim was widely praised but didn't achieve much commercial success, and Stuart says that while he didn't think MCA Records knew what to do with it (he left the label soon after), the album had a genuine impact.

It became a favorite of President Bill Clinton and earned Stuart a performance at the White House, for one thing. And fans consistently tell him it was a meaningful project for them, some of them quite famous.

''Jimmy Page walked up to me in a hotel in California and said, 'Look at this' and he pulled it out of his bag. Bob Dylan stood in my warehouse and sang me 'The Observations of a Crow', word for word. So when you've got that feedback coming in, something was right about it. It was a record I had to make.''

Stuart says he meant to take a year off after The Pilgrim, but that his planned fishing trips never materialized. He wound up composing film scores in Hollywood for All the Pretty Horses, writing songs with his wife, Connie Smith, and producing the new Johnny Cash tribute album, Kindred Spirits.

During that time away from performing and album-making, he watched country music change. He says the O Brother boom and rootsier albums such as the Dixie Chicks' Home (which includes two of his co-writes with the Texas trio) make for an encouraging outlook for his own brand of twang.

''If history plays itself out and repeats itself again, after the big bluegrass success that we've heard, I would think there will be bit of an electrical renaissance, with some grittier and earthier tones,'' he says. ''That's what I'm ready for. Just playing some good, solid country music.''

By Craig Havighurst

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