Some things don’t change, such as the competitive nature of the music business, solitude and isolation, and partying to the sound of fast-string pickin’.
Country music prodigy Marty Stuart has just released his 17th studio album. After 40-plus years in the business, the former boy wonder goes back to a style made popular before he was born or when he was just a youth -- what’s known as Classic Country. Think of the Grand Old Opry of the '50s and '60s for comparison. The nine original songs contain echoes of popular Nashville trucker songs, weepers, and rave-ups, and the tenth is a cover of “Picture From Life’s Other Side”, famously recorded by Hank Williams. Stuart has grandson Hank III join in with him in as a nod to authenticity.
Stuart has recently said in interviews that when he first started out, mixing rock and country together was a radical act. Now, he says, the opposite is true. Performing country straight is now revolutionary as mainstream country music has incorporated rock. One rarely hears any pure country music. Stuart has a good point, and the ten songs here sound as far away from what gets played on commercial country radio today as progressive rock once did in the sixties.
The music Stuart emulates was once known for its conservative conformity and sanctimonious values. However, in this incarnation the opposite is true. By performing in past musical styles that have gone out of fashion, Stuart reveals the worth of simple singing and playing as an expression of rural humanity. The characters are lost in a world in which broken dreams are swept up every night in Nashville, where loneliness is the norm, and driving a truck hard and lonesome work. And despite modern trappings, some things don’t change, such as the competitive nature of the music business, solitude and isolation, and partying to the sound of fast-string pickin’.
Speaking of pickin’, Stuart is joined by his band the Fabulous Superlatives (Buck Trent, Kenny Lovelace, and Robbie Turner). Anyone who has seen the Marty Show on the road in recent years knows just how good these guys are. They know how to tear up the joint one minute, and put a tear in your beer the next. While the album is a short 32-plus minutes long, it seems even shorter because the instrumentalists can play so fast when needed, such as on the title track or the instrumental “Hollywood Boogie”.
This is country, though, and it’s the slow songs that shine the brightest. For example, the languid pedal steel and fiddle on “A Matter of Time” allows Stuart to round his vocals around the vowels of the lyrics and add a sadness to the inflection that could not be properly conveyed in an accelerated manner. And “The Lonely Kid” is downright operatic (if not horse opera) in its evocation of love lost.
Nashville, Vol. 1: Tear the Woodpile Down takes one back to yesteryear. This was a time when country music was often associated with racial inequality, strictly regulated sexual behavior, and mindless jingoism. This has given the music of that era a bad name. Stuart’s own professional career started shortly afterwards in the early seventies, but he shows us that country music was never that simple or simple minded, and the biggest rebellions were of a personal nature.