Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
arty Stuart may be getting grayer, but don't mistake that for him getting too long in the tooth. In fact, he's also getting cooler and cooler - if possible. Not only does he have an excellent new themed-CD out, "Way Out West," but he quite ably displays his vast musical talents - both singing and playing - to go along with a treasure trove of stories for what proved to be one overwhelmingly, ultra-satisfying night of music.
Stuart took the crowd on a varied musical journey, ranging from a chunk of material from "Way Out West" to several of his hits ("Tempted" and "Whiskey Ain't Workin'," a hit with Travis Tritt).
"Way Out West' Is Stuart's ode to the west, ranging from a great trucking song, "Whole Lotta Highway (with a Million Miles to Go") to a surf rock instrumental ("Mojave") to moody, sort of psychedelic sounds.
Stuart also turned in several very worthy covers, including Marty Robbins' "El Paso" with his backing trio joining him at the front of the stage and Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' "Runnin' Down a Dream" with Stuart calling Petty and the Heartbreakers one of the world's greatest country bands.
The coolness even extended to their outfits. As often the case, Stuart was decked out in black leather pants and a long black jacket and shirt, while his backing trio, His Fabulous Superlatives, sported pastel-colored suits.
Stuart has seemingly always surrounded himself with extremely able-bodied musicians. This evening was no exception either. For starters, there was superb animated, proficient, sometimes exuberant guitarist Kenny Vaughan, who wore shades the entire night. He let it rip often with steely lines, perhaps showy in his muscular movements, but not overdoing it musically. Chris Scruggs played electric and upright bass, while Harry Stinson manned the drums. All helped with backing vocals.
To underscore the faith that Stuart rightfully placed in his band, he also let each of them have a turn singing lead, and each was up to the task with Vaughan particularly noteworthy on "Country Music Got a Hold On Me."
Stuart himself played acoustic and electric guitars along with tasty doses of mandolin. Stuart capably took a number of leads, while the mando hearkened back to his bluegrass roots with Flatt & Scruggs.
In fact, Stuart mentioned that the first two records he ever bought were those of Flatt & Scruggs and Johnny Cash. He then said that said musicians were the only bands of which he was a member (Cash was also his father-in-law for a time as he was married to Cindy Cash).
Stuart was not afraid to show his local musical memory either, remembering play the long since closed Boston Tea Party with Flatt & Scruggs and seeing Merle Haggard & The Strangers be street performers to see how much money they could make in nearby Harvard Square. He also recalled going from Nova Scotia, Canada to a bluegrass fest in Florida and bumping into Ervin T. Rouse, the author of the classic "Orange Blossom Special," which he proceeded to play solo on mandolin.
Stuart may call his band the Fabulous Superlatives, but that could be said of Stuart himself. He may getting older, but he would never be accused of dialing it in. Marty Stuart remains one cool cat.
For opener, Sean McConnell, the show was a coming home of sorts for the singer/songwriter, who's had his songs recorded by the likes of Brad Paisley and Eli Young Band. McConnell grew up in Boston exurbia before heading to Atlanta and now Nashville.
McConnell, armed with an acoustic guitar only, was not the most uplifting sort musically - something he readily acknowledged when he said he would play one of the two happy songs that he ever wrote. Not even the opener was upbeat.
But that was okay because his material was strong with perspective, including an autobiographical song, filled with legit sentiment and emotion. He provided a contrast with Stuart, but was satisfying on his own terms, and that's a compliment.