Record Review - 3 August 28 2003

Marty Stuart’s 1999 release, The Pilgrim, was the most ambitious project of his career to that point. A concept album containing traditional bluegrass, hard country and Stuart’s trademark rocking twang, the record sold poorly and cost him his record deal. Now on a new label and with a lesson barely learned, Stuart delivers the aptly named Country Music. Well known as a torchbearer for tradition, Stuart dug deep to create a work that appeals to both the contemporary tastes of the listeners and maintains his musical vision.

Kicking off with a powerful cover of Porter Wagoner’s classic “A Satisfied Mind,” Stuart and his new band, the Fabulous Superlatives, mix classic hooks with mainstream studio manipulation to create a comfortable compromise. The strongest tracks blend these elements quite well. For example, “Here I Am” features a fairly straight-ahead love theme, then knocks you out with Robby Turner’s pedal steel work.

While cameos by Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Josh Graves and Earl Scruggs reinforce the authenticity of Country Music, Stuart occasionally errs on the side of obviousness in paying homage to his roots. “Tip Your Hat,” for instance, is a meandering litany of famous names and song titles. While it’s clear Stuart loves his heroes, the list of honors sounds forced and contrived in contrast to the hard-rocking chorus in the song. In spite of some weak spots, Country Music is a great addition to Stuart’s catalog. And the biographical DVD included in some copies makes it a double deal.

Marty Stuart plays Stone Mountain Park Sun., Aug. 31. Call for ticket price.