It was more or less a storyteller’s session at Joe’s Pub in New York City with Marty Stuart Monday night. The intimate solo show was in support of his latest release, Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions, and the majority of his set originated from this record, though naturally he wove in classics like his “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”.
Nearly every song was preceded with a detailed story placing its conception somewhere within the pantheon of country music. Stuart penned “Hard Working Man”—a sensitive lament of the corrosive effects of the decline of blue collar labor—for his Daddy, but focus-grouped it on Merle Haggard. Showing Mr. Haggard a three-minute country song was like “showing Mount Rushmore your rock collection” he quipped. The somber “Hangman” was written in response to visiting the original Fulsom Prison cafeteria of Cash’s classic and learning its back wall was the prison’s original gallows. Stuck on the final lyrics, he asked his neighbor “J.R.” (Cash to the layperson) for help, who contributed them days before his passing.
Though Stuart is arguably a country artist’s country musician—virtuosic and omnipresent yet unknown to mainstream listeners—he still cuts a commanding figure. Clad in an all-black, desperado jacket Stuart’s silver mane was a striking crown. At times, though, it seemed like Stuart’s stories, with a wink, were simply a reassertion of his proximity to, and ostensible inclusion with country music legends. But his blazing solo guitar and mandolin instrumentals made his inherent talent perfectly clear. Demonstrating his good-natured spirit, Stuart invited a harmonica-wielding solicitor named John to accompany him on his last song, “Sure Wanna Keep My Wine.”