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Review: Marty Stuart travels ‘way out west’ on new album

On this his 18th studio album, Mississippi-born ‘keeper of the country flame’ Marty Stuart explores not only the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ (the most obvious starting point when it comes to country music and California), but also other genres commonly associated with The Golden State, such as surf music, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and Beach Boys-inspired pop.

There is a dream-like psychedelic edge to a number of the songs too – the kind of ‘far out’ experimentation that could well provide the soundtrack to a drug-induced ‘other-worldly’ experience in the famed Joshua Tree desert (the scene of some truly iconic band photographs – U2 and The Flying Burrito Brothers immediately spring to mind).

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives have now added their name to the list of acts to be photographed among the somehow strangely familiar rocks and cacti, as they too have succeeded in making effective use of the powerful imagery the desert undoubtedly provides to furnish both the front cover of Way Out West and the inner-album artwork.

“Desert Prayer Part 1” is more of an introduction than an opening number, it’s sitar sound creating an atmospheric sense of mystery. The groovy “Mojave” is an instrumental which boasts some fine surf-esque guitar playing from the ever-reliable Kenny Vaughan (the Fabulous Superlatives lineup is completed by drummer Harry Stinson and new member, bass player Chris Scruggs).

Singing is not heard until the third song, the superb “Lost on the Desert.” The reflective – and somewhat ‘trippy’ – slow-burner that is the title track perfectly captures what this album is all about, musically and lyrically, while tracks five and six highlight the Mexican influence on Californian music and on the country genre – a subject I explored in depth in my 2015 book, Tequila, Senoritas and Teardrops.

“El Fantasma del Toro” (“The Ghost of the Bull”) and the tune that follows it, “Old Mexico,” are the two musical masterpieces in question and, interestingly, Marty had recently finished writing the latter when I interviewed him for my above-mentioned tome in 2012.

The tempo is pleasingly upped to a quicker pace on “Air Mail Special” and I also very much enjoyed the ‘twangy’ “Torpedo,” another first-rate instrumental. “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” is epic and should be on a film soundtrack. In short, I really can’t praise this outstandingly well-crafted album enough. Country Album of the Year come the end of 2017? It’ll certainly be up there.

Way Out West, produced by Mike Campbell – guitarist with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – is available now.

For more information, visit Marty Stuart’s official website.

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