“If you go and sit by yourself in the middle of the Mojave Desert at sundown and you’re still the same person the next morning when the sun comes up, I’d be greatly surprised”.
The words of Marty Stuart who will shortly be making his way east rather than west to appear at C2C festival in Dublin Glasgow and London.
Stuart is a five time Grammy winner, Grand Ole Opry member, lifetime achievement recipient from the Americana Music Association, multi platinum recording artist and the host of his own long-running country music TV show, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of the UK and Irish country fans won’t be too familiar with him or his music.
It’s both convenient and appropriate, therefore, that the festival appearances are combined with the release of his 19th studio album, his first for two and a half years. It gives us an ideal opportunity to sample the talents of someone who is affectionately regarded with legend status in his home town Nashville.
The album was preceded by the release of the title track ‘Way Out West’, a song with a style that feels unique. No mean feat in an era where it seems that country music has been pulled from every pillar and post imaginable. For optimum effect it’s a requirement to experience this song whilst viewing the video that accompanies it.
Stuart’s ability to create atmosphere and mystique with the subtle guitar riffs and general uncoordinated instrumentation of the opening bars draws you into a tale of substance abuse, with the emotive draw of the American west as a backdrop to an epic track. Whilst this is Marty Stuart’s ‘don’t do drugs’ message, it’s also a chance for us to hear about the gloriously named Diamond Bill Cody, Hurricane Kate and probably the best of all, Big Bill Chisholm. I’ve no idea if these people are merely the figments of Stuart’s imagination but I sure as hell would like to have a beer with Diamond Bill who could tell me all about his circus show.
The downside of releasing such a mega single is the inevitable question about the remainder of the album. Can it be matched? Probably not in all honesty, but that’s not to say that it’s a one-track collection.
There are 15 tracks but 7 are either introductions, reprises or instrumentals. Stuarts’ guitar playing has always been a prominent part of his live shows and discography. He is passionate about his Sunburst 1954 Fender Telecaster that previously belonged to Clarence White. Its distinct ‘bendy’ sound becomes his signature on the instrumentals ‘Mojave’ and ‘El Fantasma’, which are both steeped in the culture of the landscape, particularly the latter with its Mexican influences.
‘Mojave’, from our UK slant, sounds very much like the output from Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch in their sixties Shadows days. Continuing the British connection, the Beatles-sounding ‘Time Don’t Wait’ is a pleasing foot-tapper that I hope will be given its debut at C2C.
Stuart’s Mojave theme inspires the bulk of the album. ‘Lost In The Desert’ is Marty’s ‘El Paso’, a first person narrative told by a cowboy “lost on the desert to die”. As Stuart was named by his mother after the iconic country legend Marty Robbins, the connection would appear to be more than a coincidence.
The album’s only cover is ‘Air Mail Special’ which was originally recorded by Benny Goodman in 1941 as a swingin’ big band number, but it was Jim and Jesse McReynolds in the early fifties with their bluegrass version that inspired Marty Stuart to give it a fresh take. His version is a rockabilly up-beat guitar-plucking delight that breaths entirely new life into the song.
Another huge highlight is ‘Please Don’t Say Goodbye’ with an almost retro atmospheric tale of separation and heartache – “sometimes love lasts for a life time, a lifetime of loves so hard to find, did you decide girl tell me a lie but please don’t say goodbye”. It’s a song that I doubt I will wear out listening to.
‘Whole Lotta Highway (With A Million Miles To Go)’ is Stuart’s tribute to the US truck drivers. Having spent many hours driving on American Interstates including the drive across the Mojave Desert from LA to Vegas, I can emphasise with the sentiments expressed here. Yet again a country song becomes the anthem to a journey.
Stuart went as far west as he could to record the album. Capital Studios in Hollywood to be precise, and the production expertise of Mike Campbell, who is noted for previous work with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers, never limited Stuart’s natural country instincts whilst maintaining a contemporary feel to the project. ‘Way Out West’ is a journey that I have enjoyed taking and will anticipate Marty Stuart’s arrival on these shores with great expectation.
(Available March 10th)