By Jeffrey B. Remz, July 2003
hen an album is called "Country Music," the singer had better make good on the claim.
Marty Stuart was not exactly worried about coming through. No need to worry that Stuart was going to go soft with a pop country sound.
In fact, the Philadelphia, Miss. native is a stalwart and die hard supporter of country music as he knew it.
"Well, that's what it is," says Stuart, 45, in a phone interview from Nashville when asked why he called his new album "Country Music."
"I don't know what it is, but it seems like every time I make a record and it's probably my fault because people keep asking me 'what's this one about?' It's time to stand up for the church and say what this is. The title explains everything that the record is about."
As in the church of country music, something near and dear to Stuart's heart.
"I think it's like a soldier in the army. You surrender your suit for a sabbatical. I think right now country music needs all the true soldiers it can get."
"I must be becoming an old curmudgeon. I think it's also okay to stand up for what you believe in. Regardless if somebody believes in the country disco movement, they should absolutely stand by their convictions and stand up."
But that's not, of course, where Stuart is coming from. No, he's a dyed-in-the-wool honky tonker with traditional country music on his mind.
"This is a place that I feel great right now," Stuart says of the music on "Country Music."
This is an album where Stuart pays ode to stars of yesteryear, starting off with his version of "A Satisfied Mind," a hit for Porter Wagoner in 1955 and putting his own twist on the semi-spoken word "Tip Your Hat," paying homage to folks like Merle and Hank and Willie where Stuart sings, "Tip your hat to the teacher."
In fact, the Hag even sings with Stuart on "Farmer's Blues," a song written with his wife, Connie Smith.
Stuart hasn't been heard from too much in the past four years. His last album was "The Pilgrim," a rarity for country, a concept album. The premise was a love story involving a strange guy in his hometown who marries above him and later commits suicide when she has an affair.
The album was not typical country fare, at least for the end of the 20th century.
While receiving great reviews, that did little to bolster album sales.
"I was absolutely disappointed," says Stuart. "I was devastated. When any artist pours out their heart and soul and really gives the audience a truthful offering, and it's not accepted for whatever reason, it hurts."
"But it's not something that took me by surprise," says Stuart, adding he knew very well it was far different than most all of the music being made then.
He also says he did not benefit from MCA Records, his label at the time.
"I didn't have that (record label) support," he says. "I had a one record deal. I wanted to go out on my own terms. I wanted to walk on my own death."And that's just what happened. It was over.
Stuart ultimately feels, however, that he was on solid ground in making "The Pilgrim."
"The whole 'O Brother' phenomenon occurred, and I said it just tells me that I was at the right place without any support," says Stuart."What it does when you have that much commercial disaster, it basically puts you out of business for a year or two."
Stuart headed out west where he did film work. He scored music for the movies, "Daddy & Them," "All the Pretty Horses" and "Yellow Bird" with Faye Dunaway.
Stuart also found himself behind the control panels in producing the Johnny Cash tribute, "Kindred Spirit" and actor Billy Bob Thornton's debut disc.
It seems that Stuart's time out west helped him stick to his guns.
"One of the things that followed me home from film world (is) it's real evident to me from soundtrack work that the image and the music have to line up. During my time of reentry (into country music), during my time on the farm in Mississippi, I'd look at gardens and trees, just basically nature. Country things. Barns, silos, fields and cows, and when I'd listen to country radio, it didn't always line up with what I was seeing. I totally understand that we (have) more of the urban sounding music these days. When I listen to this record, it kind of lines up with what I feel and see."
Sensing it was time to record again, Stuart says he had several indie labels approach him, but Stuart was not ready to go that route. Once an artist has left the major label fold, it tends to very hard to mount a career in the same way with touring and distribution.
"There's always a major deal to be had around here if you have the right idea and the right songs," he says.
Stuart ended up at one of his first labels, Sony.
"We both have a chance to get it right this time," says a jocular Stuart. "We got John Grady in control (at Sony). He's totally about the music. He's the freshest breath of air this town has seen in years."