If there were a few more like Marty Stuart making records in Nashville at the moment, country music wouldn't be in the stagnant state it's in.
Marty started out as a teenager playing mandolin with a pillar of the bluegrass establishment, Lester Flatt, and went on to serve as the sideman of choice for those who wanted someone who could play but also had a bit of spice; his rock'n'roll tendencies are never far below the surface. His 1992 single High on a Mountain Top is a sublime example of how he could take a classic and pull it right up to date without compromising any of the song's best qualities.
He has an impeccable CV then, a complete understanding of what makes good country music sound right, and just enough rebelliousness to keep it fresh. He set out to make this album saying: "I found traditional country music to be on the verge of extinction… I wanted to attempt to write a new chapter."
It's a pretty good attempt. He recorded in RCA Studio B (usually prefaced with "The Legendary"). It was there that the great recordings of Chet Atkins, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and so many others were made. And Marty's record sounds like a Studio B recording; no-nonsense backing, heavy on the steel guitar, songs of prisons, lost love, the life of the hangman (written with former father-in-law Johnny Cash, days before he died), it evokes beautifully the feel of straight down the line, late-50s honky tonk country.
Slight problem: there are a lot of Marty's songs here. They're okay, but a few covers wouldn't have gone amiss. He has the spirit right, but these are not going to be classics. He doesn't have the voice of George Jones, the instrumental mastery of Vince Gill or the songwriting skill of Willie Nelson, but he makes a good fist of it, and is - and has always been - sincere in his desire for the values of traditional country music to be maintained.
Despite a number of breaks, critical acclaim and major record contracts, it's never quite clicked for Marty. Ghost Train is unlikely to change this, but should be celebrated for what it is: a very accomplished album of its kind.
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