Review: Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – Nashville Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down (Sugar Hill, 2012)
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives – Nashville Volume 1: Tear the Woodpile Down (Sugar Hill, 2012)
Marty Stuart is a living, breathing link to the heart and soul of country music. His voice is authentic, his songs weave new threads into the existing historical tapestry, and his band is as sharp as the Buckaroos in their prime. This latest album demonstrates how strongly Stuart connects to the headwaters and multiple tributaries that have flowed in and out of country’s main branch, with music that is possessed by Bakersfield sting, Memphis rockabilly, Nashville steel, Bluegrass harmonies and Appalachian strings. It’s a fitting follow-up to 2010’s Ghost Train, and a nice addition to a string of albums, starting with 1999’s thematic The Pilgrim, that’s included country, gospel, bluegrass and honky-tonk.
It’s no accident that Stuart’s pictured playfully taunting a young lion cub on the album cover, as he was that very cub upon arriving in Nashville in 1972. He may have grown into the role of historian and elder statesmen, but his intellectual knowledge of country music never obscures his first-hand experience. The wide-eyed desire he originally brought to Nashville is still evident as the band blazes through the title track. Their frenetic twin guitar lead, twanging steel and backing vocals are as hot as the song’s driving beat, and the band steps it up another notch for the Larry Collins-Joe Maphis styled guitar duet “Hollywood Boogie.” Across electric waltzes, steel ballads and country rockers, Stuart sings of the hard climb, heartbreak, failure and fleeting success that greet Nashville transplants.
Stuart threads his theme through both his originals and a couple of covers. The wizened “A Matter of Time” might have originally been about a lost lover, but here it reads about the loss of a muse, and a solo cover of Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton’s “Holding on to Nothing” suggests a disillusioned singer letting go of his Nashville dream. Stuart characterizes his arrival in Music City as the downbeat of his life’s journey, but that trip hasn’t always been a straight line. Stuart faced down his demons more than a decade ago, but he still carries the pain of wasted years having once turned Nashville into a lonely place. The album closes on a somber note with Stuart and Hank III joining together for Hank Sr.’s “Picture from Life’s Other Side.”
Over the past decade, Stuart’s music has glowed ever brighter with a renewed fealty to country’s roots, the hard-earned perspective of a 40-year career and the gathered knowledge of an historian. He’s surrounded himself with likeminded players who’ve got the background and chops to cut loose without cutting themselves off from tradition. There’s precious little music like this being made anywhere, but particularly little in Nashville’s recording studios. As Stuart writes in his superb liner notes, “Today, the most outlaw thing you can possibly do in Nashville, Tennessee is play country music.” The marketing suits on music row may not care, but playing country music is just what Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives do, and do very, very well.