By Hal Horowitz
Stuart’s sound returns to its roots while still expanding country music’s vistas into diverse and creatively challenging areas.
1. Lost Byrd Space Train (Scene 1)
2. Country Star
3. Sitting Alone
4. A Friend Of Mine
8. The Sun Is Quietly Sleeping
9. Lost Byrd Space Train (Scene 2)
10. Night Riding
12. Time To Dance
13. The Angels Came Down
14. Lost Byrd Space Train (Epilogue)
In 2018, Marty Stuart and his ever-fabulous Superlatives crisscrossed the country as backup for original Byrd members Chris Hillman and Roger McGuinn. They were partaking in an extensive tour, paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of their seminal album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
The tour brought Stuart’s life full circle, the archetypal recording having exerted a powerful and lasting effect on him, considering it “the blueprint of my life”. Touring with the two original Byrds moved him to write songs in buses, dressing rooms and soundchecks, all influenced by the progressive country of the 1968 record.
The result is this outstanding 14-track album. It kicks off with the first of three instrumentals, all titled ‘Lost Byrd Space Train’, only amended by “parts 1, 2 and 3”. For the next 45 minutes, Stuart and his band, who are as fabulous as their name suggests, traverse classic country, rugged rock and vibrant rockabilly with a jittery, electric and even youthful enthusiasm, one that belies Stuart’s five decades in the genre.
From the hard-edged rocking twang of ‘Time to Dance’, which features Hendrix-style distorted guitar, to the sweet waltz-time title track that could be a lost George Jones gem, Stuart’s eclectic approach alternates between experimental and purist.
The strutting ‘Night Riding’ visits noir jazz territory with its walking bass and reverbed surf guitar, as he sings “its cinematic in my windshield”. Add the laconic, Beatles-influenced ‘The Sun Is Quietly Sleeping’, with its classical string trio accompaniment, and you get an idea of the colorful musical palette Stuart paints from.
For the rollicking ‘Tomahawk’, a double time beat takes a drive down Dylan’s Highway 61, as Stuart sings “we live, love, laugh die - always on the run”, a reflection of his life as a travelling musician. He invokes the spirit of Gram Parsons - Sweetheart’s… conceptual architect - with ‘Vegas’; as likely a nod towards the Americana icon’s ‘Ooh Las Vegas’, Stuart also combines strains of Chuck Berry with Tom Petty for the chugging ‘Country Star’.
Traditionalists who felt the outfit’s previous collection strayed too far down the psychedelic path can be reassured. This follow-up returns Stuart’s sound to its roots, while still expanding country music’s vistas into diverse and creatively challenging areas.
Call it a win-win.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives' 2023 album, Altitude, is released May 19, 2023 via Superlatone Creative Group and Snakefarm Records.
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