Country music icon, Marty Stuart, has been pickin’ and grinnin’ for several decades, from his early days, playing for Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash, into his solo career. Often seen as a champion of traditional country music, Stuart is branching out into slightly different territory on his new album.
“Way Out West” finds Stuart and his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, delving into the California sound, something that Stuart hasn’t often had the chance to explore on records. Depending on who you ask, the California sound could be anything from Buck Owens to The Byrds. Stuart and the Superlatives touch on all of it, with the help of Mike Campbell, guitarist for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, as the album’s producer.
The album opens with “Desert Prayer – Part 1,” a short, haunting mix of music and strange sounds. From there, it kicks right into “Mojave,” featuring the band doing its country rock version of what’s often referred to as “surf guitar music,” pioneered by players, such as Dick Dale, whose iconic song, “Misirlou,” was part of the cult classic film, “Pulp Fiction.”
Anybody who’s seen Stuart’s popular music show, “The Marty Stuart Show,” knows that every episode of the show begins with an instrumental that’s in the same vein. I have to wonder how long they’ve waited to make a record like this.
“Lost On The Desert,” the album’s first track with vocals, is an appropriate way to start this musical journey. With a very heavy Marty Robbins influence, the song feels like the first scene of a movie, with the previous tracks serving as more of a theme.
This isn’t Stuart’s first time doing a concept album like this. “The Pilgrim,” released in 1999, is a favorite among fans, although MCA Records, Stuart’s label at the time, was not necessarily in love with the idea. Because of that, the album perhaps didn’t get the kind of promotion and support that it deserved.
The album’s title track is a story all by itself. The song’s character goes on a deep journey, thanks in part to hallucinogens, which combined with the storyline makes it one of the edgiest songs Stuart has done.
“Air Mail Special” showcases the tremendous talents of Stuart and his band, while songs like “Time Don’t Wait” and “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” showcase how well Campbell fits as the producer for the band. I don’t know how the combination would work on one of Stuart’s more traditional country albums, but for this style, it’s the perfect fit.
In an article from January of this year, I said “there’s a good chance that this will be my favorite album of the year.” I had high expectations for “Way Out West,” and I was far from disappointed. Not only does the music live up to the high standards you would expect from Stuart, the album truly feels like a classic western film. It’s a fresh take on a classic artform, and I truly believe it is deserving of a Grammy next year. Marty Stuart is still in his prime.
“Way Out West” is available in stores and online now. For more information, visit www.martystuart.net.