Marty Stuart Melds Past, Present In Performance

Closes Indian Ranch Season

This appeared in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette - September 25, 2011

“If you’ve come to see a formal show, you’ve wasted your money. But if you’ve come to see a high-octane hillbilly show, you’ve come to the right place.”

So Marty Stuart announced from the stage Saturday afternoon, and he wasn’t lying. The “right place” was Indian Ranch, the occasion was the last show of the venerable venue’s season, and the performer was a country music master. The high octane content was there from the get-go, with Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, blazing out of the gate with a cover of the country classic, “Stop the World and Let Me Off,” and moving from there into a little Buddy Holly swing country with “Well Alright.”

There was plenty more drawn from country music’s past during the afternoon’s performance. That was unsurprising and fitting; Stuart has long been associated with the promotion and preservation of traditional country music, and has, in fact, long made that his leading purpose as an artist. And his visit to Indian Ranch was even more fitting, given the part that the venue has played in country music history.

Stuart emphasized that fact, pointing out that Indian Ranch was the last of the string of country music parks that had operated along the East Coast.

“I love Indian Ranch,” he announced. “We have got to keep it going.”

So Stuart reached back and did a marvelous version of “Don’t We All Have the Right to Be Wrong Now and Then,” complete with a spot-on re-creation of the vocalisms of the man he’s named after, Marty Robbins. A reprise of the Lefty Frizzell standard “Long Black Veil” was a mesmerizing arrangement that managed to do something new to a song that’s been covered hundreds of times. A little trucking music, courtesy of a cover of Mainer Dick Curless’ “Tombstone Every Mile,” even provided some New England content.

He reached back, too, to his own part in country music’s more recent past, when he was placing songs on the charts and bringing something he called the “Marty Party” to crowds across the country. There were plenty of people in the crowd wearing the T-shirts they bought at those shows. They heard “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time),” “Tempted” (another song infused with the countrified spirit of Buddy Holly), and his signature song from those days, “Hillbilly Rock.”

As hard as he works to keep the sound and spirit of traditional country alive, though, Stuart has an expansive understanding of that music, as his performance Saturday afternoon showed. Stuart and his band have a multi-dimensionality that is simply staggering.

He showed his guitar chops on the instrumental “Hummingbyrd,” from his latest album, and threw out a sizzling display of his mandolin virtuosity as well. He went solo for a performance of the haunting “Dark Bird,” a song that Stuart recently wrote in tribute to Johnny Cash. And he and his band-mates went acoustic and gathered around a single microphone to provide spine-tingling harmonies on a gospel set that included “Working On a Building,” and another new, as yet-unrecorded song, “Heaven.” It was, all in all, a textbook display of unabashedly country music that channels the music’s past into something current and vital. And it was the perfect way to bring yet another season at Indian Ranch to a close.

By Stuart Munro

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