Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (Marty, center, with, from left: Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs): Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (Marty, center, with, from left: Kenny Vaughan, Harry Stinson and Chris Scruggs): Photo: Alysse Gafkjen

 

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WAY OUT WEST

Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives

Superlatone Records

 

Cue up Way Out West and you find yourself suddenly amidst a swirling, unsettling wind as the distant sound of Native American voices chant over faint percussion and from a trebly guitar emanate ghostly entreaties. Forty-seven seconds into it, and it’s gone, supplanted by surging drums and chiming, reverbed guitar out of the “Apache” school (take your choice as to the source: The Shadows’ Hank Marvin, or the Dutch guitar master Jørgen Ingmann), but the instrumental itself unfolds with mystery and grandeur—it evokes something unknown and unknowable even as it elevates to heroic heights, like Jack Nitzsche’s “The Lonely Surfer.”

Yes, this is a Marty Stuart album, theoretically inspired by the sounds of California country, pop and rock. Herein this guitar-driven epic offers profound echoes of (according to a list I compiled while listening multiple times) Dick Dale, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, Jack Nitzsche, Don Rich, Hank Garland, Hank Marvin, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam and Pete Anderson, and, on the glorious, howling, churning instrumental titled “Quicksand,” a blessedly perverse triumvirate of Dick Dale meets Link Wray meets the unhinged Joe Meek. Along the way you’ll encounter pills of all colors; an ode to the glories of old-time air mail delivery (“Air Mail Special,” complete with some breathtaking speed picking courtesy guitarists Mike Campbell and Stuart himself, solo and in a wild tandem set-to towards the end); and a shifting timeframe, like a French New Wave film, that will set you down one minute in Old Mexico (as in the tense outlaw ballad “Old Mexico,” possibly a nod to Robbins’s classic Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs and in and of itself a seeming sequel to the cut preceding it in the sequence, the foreboding instrumental “El Fantasma Del Toro,” a spooky mélange of gentle Spanish guitar, understated percussion and softly crying steel); with a trucker big rigging it “out in the middle of nowhere/driving through a night as black as coal” in the stomping “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles to Go)”; caught up in a rocking, self-actualizing desert moment in the ceaseless assault that is “Time Don’t Wait” (“the wind did seem to say/don’t put off ‘til tomorrow/what you can do today/’cause time don’t wait on nobody/time don’t wait on nobody/time don’t wait on nobody/it just keeps moving on…”) with its delightful, central driving force being a recurring Rickenbacker guitar riff appropriated from The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”

Official trailer for Way Out West

‘Time Don’t Wait,’ Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. From Way Out West.

Give Marty Stuart credit for conducting his post-MCA Nashville solo career in an unpredictable manner that has given us great gospel outbursts (Souls’ Chapel, 2005); powerful tributes to Native Americans (Badlands: Ballads of the Lakota, 2005); country music’s eternal battle between the sacred and the profane (Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, 2014); a Faulknerian concept album of Big Themes—adultery, alcoholism, wanderlust, violence both physical and metaphysical, spirituality and family—explored in traditional country and bluegrass styles with a modern flourish (Pilgrim, 1999), to name a few gems. Although Way Out West is bookended by “Way Out West,” initially in the minimalist form cited above, and at the close in another heroic instrumental version with twanging and chiming guitars, stomping percussion and soaring strings judiciously deployed for atmospherics, it’s not about narrative but rather about the West as a state of mind, about a feeling; and, as a corollary (intentional or otherwise) treatise on the schizoid nature of America in the nascent Trump era when so much seems suddenly unsettled, and occasionally outright crazy, here and across the globe. So why not jump from a pill-fueled desert odyssey (“Lost on the Desert,” perhaps appropriately summoning the spirit of one John R. Cash but those multi-colored conscious altering skittles may well be metaphorical stand-ins for the splintered reality we live in now), to Old Mexico, to the tumultuous ‘60s in surf- and “Rumble”-inspired instrumentals “Quicksand” and “Torpedo, to the open road, and ultimately into the heart—in the soft strings, reverbed guitar and soothing rhythms of “Please Don’t Say Goodbye,” one of Stuart’s most affecting heartbreakers, and most movingly in the quietude of the acoustic-based “Wait For The Morning” (“in the name of peace, we shall be released into the Kingdom Come”) with its suggestion of redemption and salvation ahead?

‘Torpedo,’ one of the surf-styled instrumentals from Way Out West, Marty Stuart and His Superlatives

Redemption and salvation ahead in ‘Wait For The Morning,’ Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, from Way Out West

Stuart had made more than his share of exceptional album-length statements and positioned himself as the most adventurous keeper of traditional country music’s flame. But Way Out West is off the charts: every cut holds a new surprise, and the stories have depth enough to inspire multiple interpretations. Even the instrumentals arrive with subtextual meat on their bones, enough to make you wonder at their larger meaning in this context—these tunes seem to rise up out of the earth, the oceans, and the sky, speaking to something fundamental in our makeup, something Harry Belafonte seized upon in 1977, on the title track of his potent Turn the World Around album, when he urged: “Go back to the fire/turn the world around…go back to the water/turn the world around…go back to the mountain/turn the world around…only the spirit can turn the world around.”

Witness Marty Stuart at large on the earth, his characters in search of the spirit that can turn the world around. The message here: Get a grip.

 

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